By assigning different DNA bases a binary value of 0 or 1, scientists can encode and retrieve digital information simply by synthesizing or reading the DNA sequence, (Photo : Harvard Medical School)
The next generation of data storage may not lie in developing more efficient technologies - nature has already seemed to have accomplished that. DNA, the building blocks of life, can store an immense amount of information in an incredibly tiny and light space, and scientists are figuring out how to manipulate it for our own data storage. Now, scientists from Harvard have encoded almost 700 terabytes of data into a single gram of DNA.
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This beats the previous DNA-encoding density by around 1,000 times. To encode all the data humans make in one year, it would only require four grams of DNA.
Scientists George Church and Sri Kosuri carried out the research by approaching DNA in a manner similar to digital storage. They assigned each of one of the four DNA bases with a binary value. The bases thymine and guanine were assigned the value 1, and adenine and cytosine were given 0. To retrieve the information, all that one needs to do is simply read the DNA sequence and translate it into the corresponding binary values.
"The density is remarkably high," Church says in the video below. "We can store on the order of almost a zettabyte [of data] in a gram of DNA."
The team demonstrated the DNA's capabilities by encoding almost 70 billion copies of Church's upcoming book, Regenesis: How Synthetic Biology Will Reinvent Nature and Ourselves. For comparison, that's more volumes than triple the sum of the top 100 best-selling books of all time.
This doesn't mean that DNA is the surefire next step in data storage. Encoding the binary values and retrieving them can take time, making DNA data storage more suited for archival duties than quick information retrieval.
Imagine that you had really cheap video recorders everywhere," Church explained. "Just paint walls with video recorders. And for the most part they just record and no one ever goes to them. But if something really good or really bad happens you want to go and scrape the wall and see what you got."
The exciting part for Church is that "something that's molecular is so much more energy efficient and compact that you can consider applications that were impossible before."
See the study here, and watch a video of George Church explaining encoding information in DNA: