Is DNA Storage the future of data storage?
This article talks about DNA storage. Is there any possibility of using DNA as a storage device? Let’s say there’s a disaster that sends humanity back to the Stone Age. Can our knowledge and history survive?
- The printed page will decompose.
- Hard Drive storage will deteriorate.
- Even stones will eventually crumble.
But we might have something inside us that can outlast these physical limitations: deoxyribonucleic acid.
DNA already stores our biological information. From eye color to skin tone, it programs our entire bodies. DNA is made of four organic bases:
- Adenine (A)
- Guanine (G)
- Cytosine (C)
- Thymine (T)
The specific sequence of these bases into groups of three, known as codons, gives our cells instruction to make each of the proteins in our bodies.
But this code can be used for other things, too, like secret messages.
DNA research of 1999 in New York
In 1999, scientists in New York created an alphabet in which each of the 64 possible DNA codons substituted for a specific letter, number, or grammar symbol. Scientists of New York spliced a 22-character message into a long strand of DNA and surrounded it with specific genetic markers. Then they hid the DNA over a period in a type-written letter with only a small smudge to give the location away. They mailed the letter back to themselves. Then they examined the letter looking for the DNA strand. Once the DNA strand was located, they found the genetic markers. Then, they sequenced the DNA and successfully decoded the message.
It soon became obvious that DNA cryptography could code for much more than a simple text. By translating the 1’s and 0’s of binary code into DNA codons, digital data could be programmed into synthetic DNA, then decode back into its original form.
In 2012, UK scientists encoded 739 kilobytes of computer files into DNA strands, including all 154 Shakespeare sonnets and an excerpt from Martin Luther King “I Have a Dream” speech.
DNA Storage – Microsoft Research
Researchers at Microsoft and the University of Washington broke the record. They used binary coding to capture a whopping 200 megabytes of data, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and a high-def OK Go music video, all in strings of DNA.
DNA Storage Capacity
As far as storage capacity goes, DNA stands out because of the surprising amount of information it can hold in so little space. The current theoretical limit of DNA’S storage capacity is so high that you could fit 100 million HD movies on a pencil eraser. It’s even conceivable that one day we could fit all of the information currently on the Internet into the space of a shoe box.
DNA Storage Longevity
Information that is stored on the Computers and Magnetic Tapes and discs only last for a few decades. Meanwhile, DNA has a half-life of 500 years. It means that’s how long it takes for half of its bond to break. And if left in a cold and dark environment, DNA could potentially last for hundreds of thousands of years.
Synthetic DNA Auto-reproduce
And if that isn’t long enough, scientists experimented with having synthetic DNA auto-reproduce.
- First Scientists created their own strands of DNA that spelled out the lyrics of the children’s song “It’s a Small World,”. Then they placed them into the genome of a microbe nicknamed Conan the Bacterium.
- Conan belongs to a species which can survive in a vacuum, or without water, for six years. It comes out unscathed after being exposed to a dose of radiation 1,000 times that which would kill a human.
According to the experiment, the bacterium was able to reproduce at least 100 generations, without data loss. Theoretically, if the organism had redundant copies of the information that could be used to automatically correct mistakes, the information could stay preserved even longer.
DNA Storage – The Conclusion
So one day, we might be able to create a living, growing, knowledge archive in your own backyard, and its seeds might carry your family’s history. Or a detailed breakdown of the world’s political upheavals, or the sum of humanity’s knowledge into forests and across continents. Perhaps even into the far reaches of space. Though we might one day disappear, perhaps our legacy can still live on, if anyone would want to find it.
Do you Want to know what happens when your DNA is damaged? Watch this video made by Ted-ed
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