Enormous quantities may soon be called ‘genomical’

Genetic data to overtake astronomical in sheer quantity

describing genomical

REALLY BIG DATA  Genomics is on track to overtake astronomy and capture the title of most data-rich field. Each colored spot represents one DNA molecule being sequenced.

J. Shendure et al/Science 2005

Jheh-NOH-mih-cuhl adj.

Having a tremendous amount of something, equal to or exceeding astronomical levels.

Genetics is poised to overtake astronomy, YouTube and Twitter as a data-generating champion, Michael Schatz, a quantitative geneticist at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York and colleagues say. Challenges for collecting, analyzing, storing and sharing genetic data are already at least on par with some of the other most demanding big data endeavors, the researchers report July 7 in PLOS Biology.

The amount of genetic data doubles about every seven months. By 2025, researchers may have deciphered, or sequenced, 100 million to 2 billion human genomes — each the full set of genetic instructions for a person and each containing more than 3 billion DNA bases. Researchers are also compiling genetic data from thousands of species of microbes, animals and plants. No one knows for sure how much genetic information is currently available; thousands of laboratories around the world have DNA sequencing machines and most of the data are not yet in public databases.  

If the doubling trend continues, genetics will soon catch up to radio astronomy’s vast data collections, Schatz says. He proposes that “genomical” may one day replace “astronomical” as an expression of gargantuan proportions. “Whether people will adopt ‘genomical,’ only time will tell,” he says.

Tina Hesman Saey

Tina Hesman Saey is the senior staff writer and reports on molecular biology. She has a Ph.D. in molecular genetics from Washington University in St. Louis and a master’s degree in science journalism from Boston University.

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