I am working to develop a bioinformatic application that will require the development of a huge hash table with billions of keys.

As a simple example, one key might have the following string sequence: "TGGAC" - which has a ByteCount of 32.

Is it possible in Mathematica to store each letter of the 5-letter string as a 2-bit binary number to reduce the memory requirement for each key?

For example: A might be encoded as 00 T might be encoded as 01 G might be encoded as 10 C might be encoded as 11

  • 4
    $\begingroup$ There are many ways you can encode data in Mathematica, for instance as integers: FromDigits[Characters["TGGAC"] /. Thread[{"A", "T", "G", "C"} -> Range[0, 3]], 4] // ByteCount -> (* 16 *). As you can see, short objects are dominated by per-object overheads. There's a possibility to work around this by packing more of them on a single object. $\endgroup$
    – kirma
    Commented Jun 12, 2020 at 19:11
  • $\begingroup$ If the strings are not too long there might be a further saving in sorting and then storing them as a packed array. But searching would then be O(log n) instead of O(1). $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 13, 2020 at 21:40

1 Answer 1


Using kirma's advice in the comment section:


 Characters["TGGAC"] /. Thread[{"A", "T", "G", "C"} -> Range[0, 3]],

(* output: 419 *)


 Characters[IntegerString[419, 4]] /. 
  Thread[Map[ToString[#] &, Range[0, 3]] -> {"A", "T", "G", "C"}]]

(* output: TGGAC *)

Using this method I was able to lower the original hash table byte count on my data (RNA sequencing) from 69.17 Gb to 27.70 Gb. (Much obliged!)


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