Saturday, March 28, 2015

Biology & Moore's Law

What does it mean that biology has become an information science?

With the success of the Human Genome Project, biology moved from an empirical science of observation (as Gregor Mendal and Charles Darwin practiced) to an information science. We began to have the computable information necessary to analyze and study biology. The nucleobases of DNA and RNA are something a computer can easily understand, record to memory, and work with.

Moreover, the technology surrounding biology has started to fall in price while increasing in power, just like any other computer chip. The price of reading a human genome has fallen from billions to a less than $1,000 in less than 20 years. Synthesizing DNA is more expensive than just reading it, but it also is falling in price as similar rates. Modifying DNA in vivo is becoming possible, and will get cheaper.

But what else does it mean?

Read this article about improving the photosynthesis of crop plants. Soon we could have Rice 2.0. Then Rice 2.1. Then maybe we experience a couple revolutionary improvements in between growing seasons and farmers skip right to Rice 4.0 the next year.

Biology becoming an information science, where we can write data as well as read it, isn't just about predicting. It's about improving. It's about actual biological things (plants, animals, microbes, algae) getting upgraded out in the real world at the speed of research.

In other news, Malthus is still not terribly relevant to human affairs.

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