Could We Be Reborn?

We humans are fascinating. Our genetic code, which is stored in our DNA, contains about 1.5 gigabytes of information - enough to fit on a standard DVD three times over. However, 99.9% of this information is shared with all other humans, meaning the information that makes up who we are individually is just over 1 megabyte - enough to store on an old floppy disk!

So could we store a digital copy of ourselves? Could we be scientifically reborn with our memories intact?

Our understanding of the complex human genome is growing. Advances in technology and scientific research have enabled us to map and read our intricate DNA with precision.

Developments in DNA and stem cell storage have given rise to capabilities that have opened diverse ethical discussion. We can already grow tissue from embryonic stem cells and this is being carried out with success. Scientists have proved that cloning is possible and that we could technically clone a human being.

But is that enough? What about memories, emotions and the experiences that shaped our personality? Is there any use in rebuilding ourselves physically if the essence of our being cannot be recreated?

In recent years, neurologists have been mapping our brains and understanding the function of neurons and how they communicate. We are learning how memories are formed and how neuron connections and proteins help us store memories.

Ultimately, we are learning the biology of consciousness. We can already delete and replace memories in mice.

Our brain's storage capacity is not in itself a problem. Ignoring cellular data, the brain is capable of storing a few gigabytes of data. The problem lies in the way the neurons connect in order to store and share information.

Each neuron is capable of making around 1000 connections and memories are shared within these connections of neurons, meaning the brain is capable of storing about 2.5 petabytes (2.5 million gigabytes) of memory across the entire brain. This is a huge amount of information.

Furthermore, the brain is forever prioritising memories and demoting others over time. Each memory can trigger an emotional response and connect senses to that memory.

But let's say that scientists can achieve this and we store digital information about our DNA, stem cells and our memories.

We can effectively rebirth our biological data; our genetic structure could develop from our new embryo. However, we won't yet be able to import our old memories. It would be impossible to genetically engineer memories into the embyo because the brain takes time to develop. Our new brain will start learning and gaining new experiences from the womb, even though we cannot remember ourselves as a baby. Our first long-term memories develop between 24 and 30 months and our neuron pathways are still developing into our teens.

By now our brains have been busy making connections and developing these pathways, but of course we will have an entirely new set of memories and personality. It's only realistically at this age that the brain would be physically capable of downloading our old memories. Ethics aside, whether the brain would ever be capable of wiring its connections to accommodate these memories is unknown - yet.

As research continues it might prove possible, and if it does, we may well be able to engineer our immortal selves...