DNA: The Future of Data Storage

Dennis Faas's picture

European researchers have made it possible to store coded data in the form of DNA, officially creating the most compact form of digital storage ever in existence.

UK-based EMBL-European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI) recently announced the successful storage of encoded data in DNA format. The files include an MP3 of Martin Luther King's famous "I Have a Dream" speech, a .jpeg photo, and several other text files.

Millions of Data Stored in a Cup of DNA

The innovative encoding method makes it possible to store over 100 million hours of high-definition video in just a cup of DNA.

Among its countless other redeeming qualities, DNA storage is incredibly small, dense, and does not require any power for safekeeping. In the right conditions the coded information could last for tens of thousands of years.

Nick Goldman, co-author of the study conducted at EMBL-EBI, echoed the benefits of DNA storage by stating: "DNA is a robust way to store information, because we can extract it from woolly mammoth bones, which date back tens of thousands of years, and (still) make sense of it." (Source: computerworld.com)

But such a complex system does come with its share of challenges.

Writing DNA Code Challenging

As those who have worked close to this project can attest, writing DNA code presents a number of obstacles. For starters, it is only possible to manufacture DNA in short strings. Also, the process of both writing and reading DNA is prone to errors, particularly when the same DNA letter is repeated.

In response to these limitations, Goldman and co-author Ewan Birney created a unique code designed to prevent both issues from presenting problems. This new method requires synthesizing DNA from the encoded information.

To accomplish this, EMBL-EBI worked alongside Agilent Technologies (a maker of electronic and bio-analytical measurement instruments) to transmit the data and then encode it in DNA.

Agilent first downloaded the files from the Internet and then synthesized hundreds of thousands of pieces of DNA to represent the data. Once finished, the data sample resembled a tiny piece of dust.

This sample was then mailed to EMBL-EBI, where researchers were able to sequence the DNA and decode the files without error. (Source: phys.org)

All the Information in the World Stored in DNA

As Goldman pointed out, researchers could now, in principle, "store all the digital information in the world, billions of times over."

He's not exaggerating. The total amount of recorded information in the entire world is estimated at 1.8 zettabytes. If all of this data was to be stored according to the new system, it would only require about four grams of DNA to do so.

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