Can a Human Being Fit on an IPod?

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Life science technology is about as cutting-edge as it gets, but now it's apparently also hip. At least that's the image projected by University of New Hampshire researcher Will Gilbert, who has taken to carrying around the human genome on his iPod.

Gilbert, who heads the bioinformatics group at the university's Hubbard Center for Genome Studies, loaded the 3 billion chemical nucleotide letters in the human genome on his iPod one day when he discovered it would be faster than waiting for his network to copy the information.

After all, the iPod can download up to 1,000 songs in less than 10 minutes. What's 3 billion As, Ts, Cs, and Gs? Well, with 4x compression, Gilbert estimates, the human took up less than 1GB of disk space on his 5GB iPod, which also contained 300 songs. He recently upgraded to a 10GB iPod, on which he stores 600 songs plus the human genome.

"[There's] plenty of room for lots more genomes. The thing I love about the iPod is that you can plug in a pair of headphones and listen to music, or plug in a FireWire and transfer data," Gilbert says.

At the time Gilbert recognized that his iPod could carry not only the latest Missy Elliot tune but also the human genome, he was working on a project comparing large pieces of code to isolate human genes. He wanted to transfer the genome to a computer down the hall but realized it would be faster to copy it onto his iPod. "I already used it for synching and backing up tons of stuff," Gilbert says.

With the genome in his pocket, the scientist just walked down the hall and loaded it onto the other computer.

Gilbert recalls the story of Nobel Prize winner Walter Gilbert -- no relation -- who, during a speech at Harvard in the late '80s, held up a CD-ROM and said, "One day you will be carrying the genome around on this." Actually, the iPod-touting Gilbert notes, it turned out to be an MP3 player.

Gilbert will appear on CNN Headline News tonight at 7:45 pm ET as part of a technology segment with Erica Hill.

This story, "Can a Human Being Fit on an IPod?" was originally published by PCWorld.

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