How many gigabytes does it take to make a human?

Illustration for article titled How many gigabytes does it take to make a human?

How much information is stored inside a human? Not as much as you think. All you need is a mere 1.5 gigabytes to fit your entire genetic code. Veritasium did the math in his latest brain tapping video and cooked up that number using bits to understand the molecules that make up a person's genetic code.

Of course, we have a lot of cells in our body (around 40 trillion) and each of those cells contain the full 1.5 GB of our genetic code. So a real person has about 60 zettabytes (60 with 21 zeroes after) of information in total. Thats huge. Veritasium says that in the year 2020, all the digital information in the world will only tally up to 40 ZB. So turns out, there's a lot of information necessary to make a person.

But! 99.9% of our genetic information is shared with everyone else on Earth. What makes us unique is much, much smaller than a ZB. In fact, it takes less than a megabyte to make a person different from the next.


So there it is. A reasonable 1.5GB of information for our genetic code. A ridiculous 60ZB flowing in all our bodies. And an embarrassingly tiny megabyte that makes us believe we're a unique snowflake.

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Information theory, anyone? Ok, here it goes: If I have a piece of code that's 40 trillion times the same piece of 1,5 MB you don't get 1,5 * 40 trillion MB; you get 1,5MB + the amount of information needed to store "times 40 trillion" in the code that you've used.
Then, "the amount of information" is dependent on the code you use. It may seem like a base four code is obvious for DNA, but there may be more complex (or simpler) codes that give a way shorter description of our complete DNA, resulting in a lower unit of information. Therefor, the "amount of information in an object" is only relevant when comparing to another object. Which is why you need to say something like "the amount of information in a human is c + 1,5MB (with c being an unknowable constant), when the amount of information in a chair, using the same code is c + 0,00000000001 b." (Shannon theory and kolmogorov complexity, yadda yadda)

Also, you don't make a human just by coding it's DNA, you need to code the information to build a cell as well. DNA without a cell surrounding it is useless.