Genetics Great and Small [video] Posted October 10, 2010 by Daniel Ostroff

This video is based on a remake of the original 1977 Eames film, Powers of Ten. It explores the advances in genetics and computing.

In 1977, the American Modernist designers Charles and Ray Eames made a short film for IBM about the relative size of things in the universe.

One year before humans landed on the moon and 15 years after James Watson and Francis Crick identified the double-helix model for DNA, the filmmakers took viewers on a journey to the edges of the known universe, first into the furthermost reaches of outer space and then into inner space—the nucleus of an carbon atom inside a strand of DNA. The Eameses’ explained to viewers the marvels of astronomy and biology at a time when knowledge about both was exploding.

Since Powers of Ten was made, the power of computing has advanced by many orders of magnitude in tandem with the expansion of knowledge about the workings of the universe. Data processing that required a mainframe computer in 1968 can now be performed on a mobile phone.

This is good news for geneticists. They can now undertake research into everything from the design of an individual person’s genome to the historic migrations of humans across the globe. What could only be guessed at in the past can be known with increasing certainty. For the first time in our 200,000-year history, we humans are truly coming to know ourselves.

This video is based on a remake of the original 1977 short film. It explores the advances in genetics and computing that have enabled major breakthroughs in knowledge about everything from the ancient migrations of human populations to the medical implications of mapping individual’s genomes.

Powers of Ten revisited.