How Good Is Our DNA

Dna

Where do we store the vast and expanding information in our universe?

These days it’s typically in 0 and 1s–binary code–on computer chips.

But according to the Wall Street Journal(18 August 2012), in the future, it could be encoded in the genetic molecules of DNA.

DNA has “vastly more capacity for their size then today’s computer chips and drives”–where a thumb size amount could store the entire Internet–or “1.5 milligrams, about half the weight of a house ant could hold 1 petabyte of data, which equals to 1,000 1-terabyte hard drives.”

As opposed to binary code, DNA will store information as strands made up of four base chemicals: adenine (A), guanine (G), cytosine (C) and thymine (T).

Just like letters in the alphabet make up words, sequencing of these 4 base chemicals can store biological instructions (e.g. 3 billion for a person) or any other information.

Using DNA for storage involves 4 key steps:

1) Encoding information into binary code

2) Synthesizing the chemical molecules

3) Sequencing them in a string to hold the information

4) Decoding the molecules back into information

Overall, DNA is seen as a “stable, long-term archive for ordinary information”–such as books, files, records, photos, and more.

Researchers have actually been able to store an entire book of genetic engineering–with 53,426 words–into actual DNA, and “if you wanted to have your library encoded in DNA, you could probably do that now.”

With the cost declining for synthesizing and sequencing DNA, this type of data storage may become commercially practical in the future.

And with the amount of information roughly doubling every 2 years, large amounts of reliable and cost-effective memory remains an important foundation for the future of computing.

Frankly, when we talk about storing so much information in these minute areas, it is completely mind-boggling–really no different than the corollary of imaging all the stars in vastness of sky.

It is almost incredible to me that we have people that can not only understand these things, but make them work for us.

With NASA’s Curiosity Rover exploring Mars over 34 million miles away, and geneticists storing libraries of information in test tubes of DNA coding, we are truly expanding our knowledge at the edges of the great and small in our Universe.

How far can we continue to go before we discover the limitations to our quest or the underlying mysteries of life itself?

What is also curious to me is how on one hand, we are advancing our scientific and technological knowledge as a society, yet on the other, as individuals, we seem to be losing our knowledge for even basic human survival.

How many people these days, are proficient on the computer in an office setting, but couldn’t survive in the wilderness for even a few days.

Our skills sets are changing drastically–this is the age of the microwave, but knowing how to cook is a lost art to many.

So are we really getting smarter or just engaging our minds in a new direction–I hope we have the DNA to do more than just one! 😉

(Source Photo: adapted from here with attribution to Allen Gathmen)

>Transformation That Can Succeed

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Many organizations seek transformation. They are mired in paper even though we as a society have long moved to a digital age. They are organized around silos, despite the revelation that enterprise can function more effectively as one. They are overcome by day-to-day operational issues and are busy fighting fires, instead of focused on long-term strategy and execution. These are just some of the dysfunctions organizations seek to transform from.

But many transformations fail and they do so big time, leaving dispirited employees, disgruntled managers saying I told you so, and organizations hobbled in outmoded processes and legacy technologies, with the rest of the world seemingly passing them by. If they do nothing, they risk becoming obsolete, irrelevant, and a mere artifact of history.

Why do so many transformations fail and how can we help to convert these failures to successes is the topic of a Harvard Business Review (HBR) article titled “Accelerating Corporate Transformations (Don’t Lose Your Nerve)” by Robert H. Miles in January-February 2010.

Here are some of the major hurdles and what we need to do to overcome them:

· Self Interest (or the “I” factor): Those who control the most resources or institutional assets tend to monopolize discussions, trump new ideas, and strong-arm decision-making, thereby reinforcing the status quo” and the security of their own corporate kingdom. I personally think this is one of the most difficult challenges to organizational change, because you have managers (i.e. they are not genuine leaders!) whose self-interest trumps organizational progress. The author calls for compelling all executives to confront reality and work together, but this isn’t a prescriptive answer, rather it is more of a wish. In my opinion, the mandate for change must come from the very top and everyone needs to be held accountable for genuinely helping the organization changes succeed.

· Organizational capacity to change—“In most cases, the day-to-day management process is already operating at full capacity…there isn’t room within the established systems to plan and launch a transformation.” The author calls for a parallel launch with small visible victories. While, small victories are good, this doesn’t really address how the organization can carve out the time, resources and commitment in the face of already stressed people, processes, and systems. I believe that you must make the investment distinct from your regular operations (this is not a collateral duty!) and form a high-level transformation office that reports to the senior executive. The transformation office is elevated from the organizational silos and works horizontally to make change happen. This means that traditional organization boundaries become transparent for process improvement and technology enablement. However, this cannot be a proverbial, ivory tower effort, but it must be well thought out, focused, and inclusive. The transformation office must engage all stakeholders across the organization in visioning, planning, and executing change initiatives.

· Change gridlock—“Workers capacity to execute will become a choke point if the programs are not prioritized and sequenced.” The author calls for limiting change initiatives to 3 or 4. This creates organizational focus. While I agree that you do not want to overwhelm the organization with too much change too fast, I find this somewhat at odds with the authors notion of “launches must be bold and rapid to succeed.” In my mind, it is not the launches that must be bold and rapid, but rather the goals that must be bold and the transformation should be allowed to proceed in a logical sequenced phases so that the organization can achieve learning, proficiency, and sustainability. Last thing we want to do is build a house of cards. At the same time, I don’t believe there is a magic number of initiatives, but rather that this is dependent on the resources available, the size and complexity of the change initiatives, and the organizational readiness and capacity for change.

· Sustaining transformation—“The more intensive and engaging the transformation launch, the harder it is to sustain the heightened levels of energy, focus, and performance.” The author recommends a “launch redux” to continue the transformation. I’m not convinced you need an annual or periodic revival of the initiative, but rather I believe that’s what’s called for is the following: leadership continuity and commitment, the continued development and nurturing of a shared vision of what transformation means, and ongoing performance management and measurement to see the change through. I believe that people will support the change process if they can see that it is purposeful, reasonable, inclusive, and that the commitment is real and sustained.

The truth is that no major and meaningful change in our personal or organizational life is short or easy. If it were fast and easy, it probably wouldn’t be so darn pivotal to our future.

Transformation is a risky, but necessary endeavor. We should not be afraid to make mistakes and learn from these. The greatest change and growth comes from the striving itself. As others have noted, it is the journey—to the destination—that is truly critical.