Computers with undreamed of storage capacity will be needed to handle an "explosion" of genetic data in the next decade, experts have warned.

The amount of information packed into just a few molecules of DNA is enough to fill a whole computer hard drive.

Given the pace at which genetics is progressing, the amount of available genomic data will reach the "exobyte" scale - billions of gigabytes - by 2025, scientists predict.

Storing all this data will require "dramatic innovations" in computing, say the researchers.

The US team compared the needs of genomics with those of three of the leading big data players today - astronomy, Twitter and YouTube.

Sharing and storing genomic data is highly complex because it assumes different formats, said the scientists.

They estimate that the field of genomics has already produced data on the petabyte scale. A petabyte is a million gigabytes, while a gigabyte represents a billion bytes - individual units of digital information.

By 2025, genomics was expected to be in the exobyte league, surpassing YouTube - the data storage title holder among the different domains studied.

Professor Gene Robinson, director of the Carl R Woese Institute for Genomic Biology at the University of Illinois, said: "As genome-sequencing technologies improve and costs drop, we are expecting an explosion of genome sequencing that will cause a huge flood of data.

"The only way to handle this data deluge will be to improve the computing infrastructure for genomics."

He added: "Genomics will soon pose some of the most severe computational challenges that we have ever experienced. If genomics is to realise the promise of having a transformative positive impact on medicine, agriculture, energy production and our understanding of life itself, there must be dramatic innovations in computing. Now is the time to start."

The researchers, whose study appears in the online journal Public Library of Science Biology, pointed out that sequencing and storing genetic information was just one aspect of genomics that swallowed up computing power.

Co-author Professor Saurabh Sinha, also from the University of Illinois, said: "The DNA sequence in itself is not particularly useful for realising all the great possibilities that genomics technology promises.

"The sequence data have to be analysed through sophisticated and often computationally intensive algorithms, which find patterns in the data and make connections between those data and various other types of biological information, before they can lead to biologically or clinically important insights.

"All of this makes the goal much more challenging than just sequencing DNA and storing that information."

The scientists invented a new adjective, genomical, to describe the extraordinary volume of DNA sequencing data.

US co-author Dr Michael Shatz, from the Simons Centre for Quantitative Biology at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, said: "For a very long time, people have used the adjective 'astronomical' to talk about things that are really, truly huge.

"But in pointing out the incredible pace of growth of data-generation in the biological sciences, my colleagues and I are suggesting we may need to start calling truly immense things genomical in the years just ahead."

A petabyte is the equivalent of one quadrillion bytes - 10 followed by 15 zeros, said the scientists. It is 1,000 times more bytes than a terabyte, the amount of storage a home computer might hold.

If information from all the human genomes sequenced so far - about 250,000 - were put in a single place, it would require about 25 petabytes of storage space.

By 2025, the team expects as many as one billion people to have had their full genomes sequenced. The quantity of genomic data generated will range between two and 40 exobytes a year, depending on its growth rate, the researchers estimate. Currently, genomics data is doubling roughly every seven months.

Genomics was described as a "four-headed beast" by the computing experts. This refers to the separate problems of data acquisition, storage, distribution and analysis.