What can enterprise software learn from genomic research?

Profile picture for user Neil Raden By Neil Raden July 9, 2019
Advances in genomic research have changed our view of the human genome. Promising health care advances are in the works, but we'll need massive computing power to see this through. Will enterprise software as we know it change as a result?

futuristic data researcher

Does anyone remember when mapping the human genome was a big deal, and the hype surrounding sequencing your genome would tell you everything you needed to know about yourself and your future health?

That lasted for about five minutes.

It turned out there was no "one gene" for anything, any disease state. It was very soon discovered that it didn't matter at all if you had a particular gene or not.

The real make-or-break issue for your future health turned out to be whether or not the genes that you do have are on or off. If methylated (off) or unmethylated (on) by chemical tags and mechanisms.

You see, genes are in a dynamic state and can be switched on and off constantly, so sequencing a static map just once tells you practically nothing about the road you travel on.

So then, there was the hubris of declaring genes they could not discern to be worthless. The static mapping of the human genome originally left out a lot of your DNA by calling it "junk" DNA. As Einstein said, " God (read Nature here) doesn't play dice."; meaning there is no "junk" DNA, only genes whose functions we have yet to understand.

What does this have to do with enterprise software?

Hint: The technology to figure this out doesn't exist yet, but when it does, enterprise software will be unrecognizable. Genomic research pushes the capabilities of computing power and AI to be used in numerous industries and applied towards the "big data" performance challenges of enterprises.

In other words, we are going to need a boatload of computing and entirely new paradigms of software development.

We have been toiling with stone-age tools and methods in applications trying to understand how to run our businesses, our governments and, of course, ourselves.

Epigenetics also destroyed our understanding of our genetic selves in another way. It turns out that there is a thing called environmental inheritance that can switch genes on and off, actually changing the existing DNA inheritance into the distant future using today and tomorrow as predictors. That, literally, means that if your grandmother survived a concentration camp, you would inherit epigenetic alterations in genes you already have from the stress, fear, and deprivation recorded in her DNA through her experience and perception for at least 14 generations into the future.

Epigenetics is what is called a complex adaptive system which has the potential for emergent behavior in complex and unpredictable ways.Examples of complex adapting systems include ecosystems, the human brain, developing embryos, ant colonies, weather, and the economy. Your economy. Your marketing campaigns. Network design. Dynamic pricing models. Dynamic staffing models. We may not see these as terribly dynamic, but that's because we're not accustomed to thinking that way.

Wouldn't it be nice to understand your supply chain as a completely dynamic system as opposed to a handful variable you hope are good enough?

All scientific research today is firmly grounded in frequentist statistics. It draws conclusions from sample data by emphasizing the frequency or proportion of the data, then judges experiments with p-values and confidence interval that are wholly dependent on the sample. The same way the space program gave us memory foam, baby formula, the dustbuster and spaceblankets, genomics research is moving ahead with technology to model complexity.

They have a big job ahead of them. Imagine what it would take to develop a high-fidelity model of a human genome in motion with proteins, enzymes, receptors ad the rest? What would we learn about ourselves? How would it translate to other fields like business, government, education?

In truth? Somewhat.

There are at least 40,000 bacterial species in the human gut, 9 million unique bacterial genes, and 100 trillion microbial cells, harboring millions of genes, compared with the paltry 20,000 estimated in the human genome. You thought you just had one DNA map made up of mom and dad? Nope. They're not just there for fun. They control much of what happens to you.

There were recent discoveries that Parkinson's Disease (Gut Microbiota Are Related to Parkinson's Disease and Clinical Phenotype) and Type II diabetes ( Etiology of Type II Diabetes Mellitus: Role of the Foregut originate in the gut bacteria) are controlled, or even started, by gut bacteria.

To put it in perspective, humans make up 0.01% of the biomass of the earth. Bacteria make up 15%. To really understand what is happening inside you, you have an understanding of what's happening on the genetic landscape of those newly discovered guests in your gut and elsewhere. If they are guests, at all, it turns out, we just might be the guests. My wife is a geneticist, and she has a colorful expression for this (actually, she has a lot of them): "You are just the meat suit that the bacteria have you created to be able to walk around."

Here in Santa Fe New Mexico were are lucky to have the Santa Fe Institute. Their mission is "Searching for Order in the Complexity of Evolving Worlds" If you are interested in learning about how they are advancing this in science, mathematics, physics and computing, discipline, visit their site for a wealth of material.

Image credit - Feature image - Scientist in glasses and pink shirt using futuristic touchscreen display, drawing charts and diagrams, looking at the camera, by @WAYHOME studio - from Shutterstock.com