Out of Storage Space? Save it to DNA
When it comes to saving digital data, nothing can stand up to the powers of DNA. Recently, two songs were added to UNESCO’s Memory of the World archive. What’s the kicker? They were written with DNA. “Smoke on the Water” by Deep Purple and “Tutu” by Miles Davis, were the two songs in question. They were coded down, stored for a long period of time, and retrieved with 100 percent accuracy. The success of this experiment showed how DNA not only supplies a place to store large yet condensed quantities of information, but that it is also a storage medium that will never go out of date like cassette tapes and compact discs. When stored digitally, the songs take up about 140 MB of storage. When converted to DNA, they were simply a speck; smaller than a grain of sand. If 6 petabytes (equal to 6 million gigabytes) were saved onto DNA, it would take up space the size of a grain of rice.
How did these researchers accomplish such a task? Well, they started by converting each file to binary, with 1s and 0s. Then they grouped them all up in pairs and began the translation process. Since there are 4 DNA elements, A,C,T, and G, they had each once represent a pair. For example, A would equal 00, C would be 10, T would be 01, and G would be 11. They then created synthetic strands of DNA that followed this code pattern and made sure to include a sequence number so that the strands could be re-assembled in the correct order. Each individual strand contained about 12 bytes of data. When the time came to retrieve the DNA data, they used conventional DNA sequencing technology to put the genetic bases in proper order.Finally, they decoded the As, Cs,Ts, and Gs back to 1s and 0s so they music could be played as usual. The cool thing about the success of this experiment is that, while encoding music to DNA is cool, it could be anything: a movie, a video, a PDF file, you name it.
While this process isn’t very affordable for mainstream use, the technology is there, and it’s only going to get cheaper. Once our techniques are further refined, costs will go down and the demand for such a high-tech storage device will be high. Additional breakthroughs would include the potential to reversibly encapsulate the DNA in spheres of silica so they could last for thousands of years. In the meantime, you’re just going to have to deal with the 64GB of storage built into your iPhone.