Can new technology decode the biggest data set of all?

Can new technology decode the biggest data set of all?
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Aydogan Vatandas

The human genome is a complex code that contains all the data that makes a person. Scientist Riccardo Sabatini says we have the power to read this code, predicting things like height, eye color, age — all from a vial of blood.

In his 16 minutes long TED talk titled “How to read the genome and build a human being.” Dr. Sabatini points out that the information to build a human infant, atom by atom, would take up the equivalent of enough thumb drives to fill the Titanic, multiplied by 2,000. Later he wheels out the entire genome, in printed form, of a human being:

‘For the first time in history, this is the genome of a specific human, printed page-by-page, letter-by-letter: 262,000 pages of information, 450 kilograms.’

‘A wonderful book, a mighty book, a mighty book that helped me understand and show you something quite remarkable. Every one of you -- what makes me, me and you, you -- is just about five million of these, half a book. For the rest, we are all absolutely identical. Five hundred pages is the miracle of life that you are. The rest, we all share it. So think about that again when we think that we are different. This is the amount that we share.’

Dr. Sabatini invites us to read a book, human genome, which now is clear, vivid, accessible and beautifully formatted. Humans are invited to read themselves.

“This is the miracle of life,” says Dr. Sabatini. But whose “miracle” is it? Who did it? How did it happen?

This is how Dr. Sabatini reads it:

‘Nature, fortunately, is much smarter than a young physicist, and in four billion years, it managed to pack this information in a small crystal we call DNA. We met it for the first time in 1950 when Rosalind Franklin, an amazing scientist, a woman, took a picture of it.’

This is where religion and science is separated. When you call it nature its science, when you call it God, it’s religion. When you call it nature, nature becomes conscious and God, -which as beautifully articulated- has ability ‘to pack the human information in a small crystal, DNA, in four billion years.’

Pantheists views the universe and God are one and the same. Any reverence or worship is directed not to a god in any form but to the whole of the cosmos, and spirituality is centered not on a traditional deity but on nature.

According to Sufis, ‘He/She, who knows him/herself understands the nature of cosmos and things actually are not apart but just ONE and his/her existence is not his/her own existence, but the existence of God, too.

How can we read it? How can we make sense out of it? Sabatini says they build a machine actually many machines to read it.

‘We build a machine and we train a machine -- well, not exactly one machine, many, many machines -- to try to understand and translate the genome in a phenotype.’ Says Dr. Sabatini.

‘What are those letters, and what do they do? It's an approach that can be used for everything, but using it in genomics is particularly complicated. Little by little we grew and we wanted to build different challenges. We started from the beginning, from common traits. Common traits are comfortable because they are common, everyone has them.’

Sabatini says that we are touching the very inner detail on how life works adding that it's a revolution that cannot be confined in the domain of science or technology.

‘This must be a global conversation. We must start to think of the future we're building as a humanity. We need to interact with creatives, with artists, with philosophers, with politicians. Everyone is involved, because it's the future of our species. Without fear, but with the understanding that the decisions that we make in the next year will change the course of history forever.’


It was the first command in Qur’an. Before ordaining prayers and fasting, before giving details of the creed and the law to be revealed, the first command was, “Read.”

Read...As much as you can...

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