Data Storage in DNA

Whoa. Our DNA might become more than just the building blocks of life.

cientists announced yesterday that they successfully converted 739 kilobytes of hard drive data in genetic code and then retrieved the content with 100 percent accuracy.

The researchers began with the computer files from some notable cultural highlights: an audio recording of MLK Jr.’s 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech, all 154 of Shakespeare’s sonnets, and, appropriately, a copy of Watson and Crick’s original research paper describing DNA’s double helix structure. On a hard drive, these files are stored as a series of zeros and ones. The researchers worked out a system to translate the binary code into one with four characters instead: A, C, G and T. They used this genetic code to synthesize actual strands of DNA with the content embedded in its very structure.

The ouput was actually pretty unimpressive: just a smidgeon of stuff barely visible at the bottom of a test tube. The wow factor arose when they reversed the process. The researchers sequenced the genome of the data-laden DNA and translated it back into zeros and ones. The result was a re-creation of the original content without a single error, according to the results published in Nature on Wednesday.

If that makes no sense to you, don’t worry. Essentially, a small amount of DNA can hold a great deal of information. A gram of DNA can replicate the equivalent of more than a million CDs. The storage method would last a really long time without degradation. Think of the technology as an emergency backup for the most important data in the world rather than a practical replacement for your external hard drive.

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