Thursday, September 3, 2009

On Influenza A (H1N1 [Swine Flu])

So how many bits are in this instance of H1N1? The raw number of bits, by my count, is 26,022; the actual number of coding bits approximately 25,054 -- I say approximately because the virus does the equivalent of self-modifying code to create two proteins out of a single gene in some places (pretty interesting stuff actually), so it’s hard to say what counts as code and what counts as incidental non-executing NOP sleds that are required for self-modifying code.

So it takes about 25 kilobits -- 3.2 kbytes -- of data to code for a virus that has a non-trivial chance of killing a human. This is more efficient than a computer virus, such as MyDoom, which rings in at around 22 kbytes.

It’s humbling that I could be killed by 3.2 kbytes of genetic data. Then again, with 850 Mbytes of data in my genome, there’s bound to be an exploit or two.

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