We have been seeing novel methods to store the ever increasing digital data from servers to portable drives to cloud. A study by researchers at the EMBL-European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI) now says that it is possible to store gigantic amount of digital data in DNA for thousands of years. In the Nature weekly journal, EMBL-EBI researchers Nick Goldman and Ewan Birney reveal that their breakthrough could make it possible to “store at least 100 million hours of high-definition video in about a cup of DNA”.

Store digital data in DNA

Store digital data in DNA (Image Credit: Getty Images)

Researchers reveal that they had stored Shakespeare's 154 sonnets, a photo, a scientific paper and a 26-second sound clip from Martin Luther King Jr.'s “I Have a Dream” speech in a barely visible bit of DNA in a test tube. The process converted the 1s and 0s of digital information into the four-letter alphabet of DNA code. This code was then used to create strands of synthetic DNA. They add that the cost involved in synthesising the molecule in the lab is what makes this type of storage exorbitantly expensive. However, they are positive that newer, faster technologies will soon make it affordable.

The DNA is said to be an evolved storage media that packs in all the variety and complexity of organic life in just a small amount of biological matter. However, turning DNA into storage for digital and non-biological information isn’t an easy task because efficient and reliable encoding has been difficult using artificial means, explained the researchers. “We already know that DNA is a robust way to store information because we can extract it from wooly mammoth bones, which date back tens of thousands of years, and make sense of it. It's also incredibly small, dense and does not need any power for storage, so shipping and keeping it is easy,” said Goldman.

Talking about the properties of DNA, a team member states that one doesn’t require electricity to store data in DNA. Further, the group states that data to benefit from this molecular storage would be historical and government records as one doesn’t need to use them everyday. So, one can encode the data in the DNA and put it away safely. This molecular storage option wouldn’t even require maintenance like magnetic tapes or hard disk drives. And, one would also never face problems like backwards-compatibility. “We think there will always be DNA-reading technology so long as there is DNA-based life around on Earth, assuming it is technologically sophisticated of course,” Dr Birney told BBC News.

This isn’t the first time that researchers have tried merging digital storage and DNA. A report about next-generation digital information storage in DNA was published last year in August showing advantages of storing digital information in DNA.

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