Get ready for some incomprehensibly big numbers.

Scientists are predicting that genomics — the field of sequencing human DNA — will soon take the lead as the biggest data beast in the world, eventually creating more digital information than astronomy, particle physics and even sites like YouTube.

The claim, published this month in a PLOS Biology study, is a testament to the awesome complexity of the human genome, but it also illustrates a pressing challenge. As genomics expands, finding the digital space to store and manage all of the data is a big hurdle for the industry.

To give some idea as to the amount of data we’re talking about, consider YouTube, which generates the most data per year — around 100 petabytes, according to the study. A petabyte is a quadrillion (that’s 10 followed by 15 zeros) bytes, or about 1,000 times the average storage on a personal computer.

Right now, all of the human data generated through genomics — including around 250,000 sequences — takes up about a fourth of YouTube’s yearly data production. But the field is just getting started.

 

Rising temps skew lizard gender

According to new research, climate change may leave some lizards in a gender lurch. The Australian bearded dragon’s sex is determined by both its chromosomes and the environment its egg is incubated in, so warmer temperatures could be skewing wild populations to have more females. In a study published in Nature, researchers report that they’ve seen evidence of this in wild populations of Pogona vitticeps.

 

How plague germ evolved to killer

Contrary to what was previously believed, the bacterium responsible for the Black Death probably caused small outbreaks of lung disease for thousands of years before it evolved its better-known bubonic form, according to a new genetic study.

Also, only one added gene was needed to turn the Yersinia pestis bacterium into a killer, and only one tiny mutation in that gene was needed to give it two ways of spreading — by cough or by flea bite, said Wyndham W. Lathem, a microbiologist at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine who oversaw a team inserting genes into ancestral versions of Y. pestis in mice.

 

Fossilized sperm is 50 million years old

The oldest known fossilized sperm, discovered inside a worm cocoon in Antarctica, is 50 million years old, a new study reports.

“It’s a bizarre fossil oddball,” said Benjamin Bomfleur, a paleontologist at the Swedish Museum of Natural History. He and his colleagues reported their findings in the journal Biology Letters.

Earthworms and leeches release eggs and sperm into their hardy cocoons. The fossilized sperm was probably entrapped in the cocoon walls just as insects can become snared in amber.

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