By Jack Uldrich
Cross-posted from www.jumpthecurve.net
I speak to a great many student groups and I am often struck by
how few of them appreciate the difference between one million, one
billion and one trillion. (In the name of fairness, the same is
true of many adults). Perhaps, it is because the three figures are all large
numbers that most people don’t think there is an appreciable
difference. Perhaps, it is because the words – million, billion,
and trillion – the rhyme; or maybe it’s just because they’re
dumb—or have had poor teachers. I really don’t know.
One way I have tried to convey the difference between the
numbers is by explaining the figures in a different way. To
One million seconds was 12 days ago; One billion seconds was
roughly 30 years ago; One trillion seconds was approximately 30,000
years ago – 28,000 B.C.!
My point with the analogy is that one trillion of anything is a
really BIG number, and it is much, much
different than one billion. This analogy is important because on
January 17, 2006 the Wellcome Sanger Institute announced it had
archived it’s one billionth DNA sequence. It was an impressive
Well, today, Wired magazine reported that
the prominent genetics institute sequenced its trillionth base of
DNA. This is a one thousand-fold
improvement in just over two years. (cont.)
As genome sequencing costs continue to fall, the personal
genomics industry may soon blossom. It could be as soon as next
year. I’m hopeful for that, at least, after reading a post on Brian
Next Big Future. He gave a nice succinct overview of what’s
going on in the field, and how quickly it may become affordable for
In order to really be viable as a supplemental health service,
the magic price point for a full genome sequencing is said to be
$1,000. Here’s a quick breakdown of how drastically the time and
money needed to produce that data has been minimized already,
thanks to the accelerating rate of computing power and
October 27 2008 / by John Heylin
Category: Security Year: 2010 Rating: 5 Hot
The UK police are implementing a new policy which has civil liberty groups in an uproar. Called Project Midas, it aims to put small Blackberry-like fingerprint scanners in the hands of police within the next two years. This will allow police to confirm the identity (7.5 million prints on record and climbing) of people they detain.
Officials claim that the fingerprint records will only be used for identification and all fingerprints obtained by the device will be erased. But after reading about the British bomb-sniffing laundromat I have my doubts.
In fact, the UK Police are notorious for invading the civil liberties of their people. With an estimated 1.5 million security cameras around London alone (along with a probable 4.2 million country-wide), it’s no wonder the British people are feeling a little perturbed.
November 14 2008 / by John Heylin
Category: Technology Year: 2009 Rating: 5 Hot
Bo Albinsson at Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg, Sweden, has figured out a way to use DNA as a nano fiber optic cable. They accomplish this by combining DNA strands with a chromophore called YO which has a strong attraction to DNA molecules. By wedging itself into areas of DNA, a 3nm diameter fiber optic cable is born (these fibers are self-assembling).
Fiber optic cables have become more commonplace in the world and are expected to take an even bigger step into the solar energy business by improving photo voltaic cells. Optical computers could also benefit greatly from photon-specific nanowires.
via New Scientist
Image: Diego Cantalapiedra (Flickr,CC-Attribution)
By Dick Pelletier
Bodies that never get sick, clothes that change their material
and color, and machines that fix their own glitches. These are some
of the dreams researchers see as they attempt to copy how nature
gathers non-living matter and transforms it into living things.
Life is generally not thought of as being mechanical, but a cell
basically is a miniature machine which rearranges non-living atoms
to create parts that “bring it to life.”
What makes life possible, scientists say, is the natural
tendency of atoms to assemble into molecules, and molecules to
assemble into larger structures. Scientists want to understand this
process and use it to create self-replicating nano-materials that
can be instructed to “grow” into a variety of products.
If we could make life, researchers say, we could apply its
principles towards building almost any product. Life is very
complicated, but it repairs itself, organizes itself, and adapts to
changes – all automatically. It’s the ideal blueprint for
assembling things atom by atom with no material waste and minimal
Commercial benefits could include nano-size cell-repair machines
that create new arteries, deliver drugs to specific sites, and heal
the body from the inside; clothing that changes its molecular
structure and color on command; bio-systems that clean up the
environment; and powerful nano-chips that improve electronic and
Leaders in artificial life research are the European Union’s
Programmable Artificial Cell Evolution project, and the
NASA-supported Protocell project at Los
Alamos National Laboratory, New Mexico. (cont.)