Computer OS, short movie successfully stored in DNA

NY scientists were able to successfully store, replicate and retrieve multiple digital files using DNA, as if it were like a real computer hard drive.

The latest record was established by a group of researchers from Columbia University and from the New York Genome Center.

Using a computer algorithm called the fountain code, the binary strings were stored inside droplets which were then mapped to the DNA's four nucleotide bases.

Aside from being microscopically small, putting data in DNA will allow us to safely store information for hundreds of thousands of years into the future. Ever since DNA was first discovered in the 1950s by James Watson and Francis Crick, scientists quickly realized huge quantities of data could be stored at high density in only a few molecules.

So what did the duo decide to use to test their method? The files included a full computer operating system, a 1895 French film, an Amazon gift card, a computer virus, a Pioneer plaque, and a study by information theorist Claude Shannon.

Once they converted all that data into DNA-compatible information, they sent it to Twist Bioscience, a San Francisco startup specializing in DNA synthesis. The files were recovered with no errors.


DNA as a storage medium makes sense-after all, it already stores the billions of letters that code for life. Then, by using a special algorithm called DNA fountain, the researchers were able to split this master document into binary code. They also showed that the technology is extremely reliable. The storage capacity is massive; it can reach a density of 215 Petabytes per gram of DNA and can last a very long period of time. But Erlich took a cue from the entertainment section of the newspaper in developing DNA Fountain.

Well, according to the paper submitting by the research team, with this revolutionary method we can pretty soon wave bye-bye to conventional storage methods such as hard-disk, blue-rays or memory disks. Within two-weeks the company produced a vial holding the DNA molecules encoded with the data. But, until now, they've only unlocked a fraction of its storage capacity.

In addition, the researchers showed they could easily copy DNA-encoded files using polymerase chain reaction (PCR), a technique now commonplace in genetics labs.

Instead, the researchers think the best application for DNA storage is for online archiving services such as Amazon Glacier, which are designed for long-term storage of data that are only accessed infrequently and where waits of several hours to retrieve files are acceptable. "We can do more of the heavy lifting on the computer to take the burden off time-intensive molecular coding", he said.

Church, who was not part of the new study, believes the immediate use of the DNA data storage is for archiving. According to Erlich and Sri Kosuri, a biochemist at the University of California, Los Angeles, it costs $7,000 to synthesize just 2MB of data.

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