Volumes of Information in the Human Cell

The information stored in DNA must by no means be underestimated. So much so that one human DNA molecule contains enough information to fill a million-page encyclopaedia, or to fill about 1,000 books. Note this fact well: one million encyclopaedia pages, or 1,000 books. This is to say that the nucleus of each cell contains as much information as would fill a one-million-page encyclopaedia, which is used to control the functions of the human body. To draw an analogy, we can state that even the 23-volume-Encyclopaedia Britannica, one of the greatest mines of information in the world, has 25,000 pages. Therefore, before us lies an incredible picture. In a molecule found in a nucleus, which is far smaller than the microscopic cell wherein it is located, there exists a data warehouse 40 times bigger than the biggest encyclopaedia of the world that includes millions of items of information. This means a huge 1000-volume encyclopaedia which is unique and has no equal in the world. Were one piece of information present in human genes to be read every second, non-stop, around the clock, it would take 100 years to complete the process. If we imagine that the information in DNA were put into book form, the volumes placed on top of each other would reach 70 metres high. The latest calculations have revealed that this huge encyclopaedia contains some 3 billion different "subjects." If the information in DNA were to be written down on paper, that paper would stretch from the North Pole to Ecuador.

These examples are an indication of the imposing amount of information contained in DNA. Yet how can we talk of a molecule containing information? This is because what we talk about here is not a computer or a library, but just a piece of flesh that is a hundred thousand times smaller than a millimetre, simply made up of protein, fat and water molecules. It is a miracle of astounding proportions that this infinitesimal piece of flesh should contain and store even a single bit of information-let alone millions of bits.

The DNA molecule in the nucleus is wrapped up in special covers called chromosomes. The total length of a DNA molecule wrapped up in the chromosomes is 1 meter. A chromosome is one nanometer thick, in other words a billionth of a meter. How is a 1 metre long DNA molecule contained in such a tiny space? Chromosome packages are actually made up of much smaller special container systems. The DNA molecule is first wound around special proteins called histones, just like a cotton reel. Thus they form structures called nucleosomes. These nucleosomes are specially designed to protect the DNA and stop it being damaged. When nucleosomes are strung on to one another, they form chromatins. Closely wound coiled loops from with the chromatin. In this way a superb creation squeezes the DNA molecule into a tiny space only a billionth of its length.

Computers are currently the most advanced form of technology for storing information. A body of information, which, 30 years ago, was routinely stored in a computer the size of a room, can today be stored in small "discs," yet even the latest technology invented by human intelligence, after centuries of accumulated knowledge and years of hard work, is far from reaching the information storage capacity of a single cell nucleus. The following comparison made by the well-known professor of microbiology Michael Denton, will probably suffice to highlight the contrast between the tiny size of DNA and the great amount of information it contains:

The information necessary to specify the design of all the species of organisms which have ever existed on the planet, a number according to G.G. Simpson of approximately one thousand million, could be held in a teaspoon and there would still be room left for all the information in every book ever written. (Michael Denton. Evolution: A Theory in Crisis. London: Burnett Books, 1985, p. 334

How can a chain invisible to the eye, made up of atoms arranged sideways, with a diametre the size of a billionth of a millimetre, possess such information capacity and memory? And to this question also add the following: While each one of the 100 trillion cells in your body knows one million pages of information by heart, how many encyclopaedia pages can you, as an intelligent and conscious human being, memorize in your entire life? Even more important, the cell uses this information quite flawlessly, in an exceedingly planned and coordinated manner, in the appropriate places, and never makes any errors. Even before a human being has come into existence, his cells have already begun the process of building him.