The Scientific Journal Nature revealed yesterday that Scientists have created a way for us to store data in the form of DNA, a material that lasts for thousands of years and has the capabilities to store half a million DVD’s in just a gram of DNA.
“A team of scientists has produced a truly concise anthology of verse by encoding all 154 of Shakespeare’s sonnets in DNA. The researchers say that their technique could easily be scaled up to store all of the data in the world.” states the article on Nature.com
The only issue the scientist have to overcome is the price to read and write the data onto the DNA. “The EBI team estimates that it costs around $12,400 to encode every megabyte of data, and $220 to read it back. However, these costs are falling exponentially”. So don’t expect DNA Drives any time soon, but that’s not to say it’ll never happen because it’s quite possible.
So how does it work? Well I’ll try and explain it, but with my lack of biochemistry knowledge I may be totally wrong.. As you may or may not know, computers operate by doing computations using a series of “ones” and “zeroes” or Binary Code. The scientists attempted to write the DNA using this method “Church’s team used a simple code, where the DNA bases adenine or cytosine represented zeroes, and guanine or thymine represented ones.” this method didn’t work too well as it led to long strings of the same letter or errors in the data itself. To overcome this Nick Goldman’s group created a new method for each byte (eight ones or zeroes) by creating five letter words using the beginning letters of the four DNA bases: A, C, G or T. “To try to limit errors further, the team broke the DNA code into overlapping strings, each one 117 letters long with indexing information to show where it belongs in the overall code” explains the Nature.com article further.
Though it’s a more complicated way to write data and it costs a far bit to read and write the data, the amount of space needed for the amount of data the DNA can hold is far smaller than the standard magnetic disc drives, and flash drives. And who knows, the price of writing data to DNA could get so cheap that we’ll be running our computers on DNA – or we could use ourselves as data storage??
Fun Fact: At the end of 1987 a 40MB Iomega Hard Drive cost $1799, but ten years later, for just over a quarter of the price ($490.99), you could get just over 100 times the storage (4.0GB)!