(Photo : Flickr / aspidoscelis)
Two biologists at the European Bioinformatics Institute, where tons of information and databases of DNA sequences are stored, were thinking of an alternative method for data storage.
Associate director of the institute Ewan Birney and researcher Nick Goldman were joking around one night over drinks about using DNA to reduce the stress on the hard drives at the institute.
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Their idea, which first started as a joke, actually turned into something promising.
"We had to order another beer, and call for more napkins to write on," Goldman said.
And three years later, the bar chatter transformed into a study that was published in the science and nature journal Nature.
Birney and Goldman, as well as other researchers who jumped on the project, used DNA to store Shakespeare sonnets, a PDF document of the first report describing DNA's structure, a 26-second clip from Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech, a text file of an algorithm and a JPEG photograph of the institute.
The experiment coincides with a time where silicone CDs are reaching a limit of how compactly data can be stored and could prove very useful for institutes such as Birney and Goldman's where floods of information create enormous archives.
Although the costs of DNA storage at this moment are too high to be used for personal information, the price continues to decrease and could be a viable method in the future.
"You would email documents and photographs and stuff that were valuable to you and your family [to the DNA storage company], and maybe a day later or a week later, they would ship you back a little bit of DNA," Goldman said. "You could stick it in the fridge or bury it in the garden or they would store it. And they can guarantee it will be there a hundred thousand years later."
But Birney and Goldman are not the first scientists to realize the potential of DNA as a data storage platform.
In September 2012, George Church, Yuan Gao and Sriram Kosuri described a similar process in the same science journal that this study was published.
And Kosuri believes that there is much more to be done in the exploration of DNA data storage.
"We're not bringing to bear the 30 years or so of electrical engineering that have gone into making CD's. We're biologists, not electrical engineers," he said.
But aside from the lengths that DNA storage research has to go to turn into something practical and feasible, the reality is that new methods of data storage will have to turn away from silicone as humanity continues to create data at an exponential rate.