The science of extremely large numbers

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The science of extremely large numbers 2017-03-21T17:23:59+00:00

When numbers get too big they start to lose any meaning

The numbers in microbiology sometimes get so large they start to become extremely hard to imagine. It is often easier to employ analogies to help us visualise some of the mind-boggling sums involved.

0 million
Nucleotides in every strand of human DNA (approx 3.2 billion)
0 billion
Total number of cells in the human body (approx 100 trillion)
0 billion per litre
Number of red blood cells in every litre of human blood (approx 5 trillion)
0 per min
Number of new cells required every minute by a healthy human adult (approx 50 million)

Lets take one strand of human DNA

Human DNA is a good example, containing an estimated 3,200,000,000 nucleotides, divided into 24 linear molecules, the shortest 50,000,000 nucleotides in length and the longest 260,000,000 nucleotides.

If printed out in a single long line, the pattern of nucleotide pairs in a complete sample of human DNA typeset at 60 characters (nucleotides) of DNA sequence for every 10 cm, would stretch for 5000 km – about the same as the distance from London to Montreal. Put another way, the same sequence would fill about 5000 standard sized paperback novels.

And don’t forget; that’s just one strand of human DNA in one cell! There are approximately 1014 (that’s 100 trillion) cells in the average adult human body. Roughly the same number as there are stars in the biggest galaxy in the entire known universe.

With the exceptions of a few other different cell types, such as red blood cells, each cell has its own copy, or sometimes copies, of DNA.

So, when we consider: 100,000,000,000,000 cells x 3,200,000,000 nucleotides per cell, that’s … a truly staggering amount of nucleotides in the average adult human body. Many of these cells (approx. 50,000,000 per minute) are constantly requiring replacement, repair or regeneration; it makes it a little easier to appreciate the importance for the body to have a very good supply of all five nucleotides stockpiled and ready-for-use.

NNNXL Very Large Numbers 01

figure 1: Some of the mind-boggling large numbers associated with human cellular and microbiology. 

This information is taken from our ground-breaking publication, “Putting you completely in the picture” – an introduction to nucleotides.

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