DNA for Digital Data Storage?

In our digital age, every ounce of knowledge we have is archived to digital hard drives. But with hard drives only lasting a few decades, how can we better preserve our information for centuries? Robert Grass, Ph.D. and his team of researchers turns to DNA as a possible solution.

To test out DNA’s storage capabilities, the researchers encoded DNA with 83 kilobytes of text compromising of the Swiss Federal Charter of 1291 and The Methods of Mechanical Theorems by Archimedes. They stored the DNA in spheres of silica glass, simulating how DNA is encapsulated in fossilized bones, and heated the genetic material to nearly 160 degrees Fahrenheit for a week. These conditions replicate the chemical degradation that would take place over hundreds of years. After removing the DNA from the silica sphere, the team decoded the DNA. All data was intact, error-free.

The “language” of DNA is similar to the binary code currently used in computers, confirmed Dr. Grass. Instead of the 0s and 1s used in a hard drive, the DNA codes is comprised of four chemical nucleotides- A, C, T, and G. A similar process of writing binary code can be used to encode sequences in DNA.

Overall, the size and durability of DNA provides significant advantages. While external hard drives hold up to 5 terabytes of data, DNA has the potential to store more than 300,000 terabytes of data. DNA is also more compact, being about 60,000 times thinner than a strand of hair.

Still in its early stages, this research comes with a drawback. DNA storage costs thousands of dollars so consumers won’t have the option of buying DNA-based data storage anytime soon. But, this ground-breaking research is a foot-in-the-door to permanently preserving information.

Grass says he would first preserve Wikipedia pages. What part of our world would you choose to archive? Tweet @RedOrum or comment on our Facebook page.

Robert Grass and his researchers presented their work at the 250th National Meeting and Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS).


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