How Much DNA Is There in the World?

iStock / iStock

The world is full of genetic material. Just how much remains up for debate. But a new estimate by a group of researchers with the University of Edinburgh’s United Kingdom Centre for Astrobiology demonstrates just how mind-boggling the amount of DNA on Earth might be. 

All the DNA across the world, plants and animals both, adds up to at least 53 nonillion (a number equal to 5.3 × 1031) megabase pairs. A megabase pair, equal to one million base pairs, is the unit of length for nucleic acids. That amount of DNA would weigh 50 billion tons, according to the estimates published in PLOS Biology

If scientists were to store that level of genetic information, it would take 1 sextillion (one thousand trillion, or 1021) supercomputers with storage capacities equivalent to the world’s four most powerful current supercomputers. 

The estimate was calculated based on several different factors, including the number of single-celled organisms thought to live on Earth and their average genome size, the number of eurkaryotic cells in the world, and the mass of all the animal cells in the world. The scientists used several different methods and compared the numbers before arriving at their conclusion. While the numbers are not exact, the researchers speculate that if anything, this is an underestimate of all the genetic material present in the world.