Data storage meets DNA


DNA may store the blueprints for life, which is amazing itself, but it just might be used in the future to solve another huge storage problem: the world's growing output of data.

In the journal Nature this week, it was reported that scientists have successfully stored and retrieved, in a fragment of DNA--with 99.9 percent accuracy--Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech, as well as a copy of Francis Crick and James Watson's scientific paper from 1953 on the double helix DNA structure and Shakespeare's 154 sonnets. Gautam Naik reported on the news of the experiment in a Wall Street Journal article this week.

Experimenters have found ways to encode information in other biological structures, such as cells, bacteria and the genetic code of micro-organisms. However, these systems were short lived. DNA, on the other hand, is stable, durable and dense, the report found. Because DNA isn't alive, it could sit passively in a storage device for thousands of years. The current life span of a magnetic tape drive is only a decade or so, and hard disks require energy.

Nick Goldman, a computational biologist at the European Bioinformatics Institute in Hinxton, England, said it was just a matter of adapting what nature has hit upon--a very good way of storing information.

It's far from being commercially viable, but Naik said the scientific barriers are starting to fall and that researchers at Harvard University reported encoding an entire 54,000-word book in strands of DNA last summer.

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