20 August 2012

Terabytes of data stored on a gram of DNA

Last week I felt good about adding several gigabytes of capacity to my RAM, so I was totally awed by this report from Harvard Medical School:
[George] Church... and his team encoded the book, Regenesis: How Synthetic Biology Will Reinvent Nature and Ourselves, in DNA, which they then read and copied.

Biology’s databank, DNA has long tantalized researchers with its potential as a storage medium: fantastically dense, stable, energy efficient and proven to work over a timespan of some 3.5 billion years. While not the first project to demonstrate the potential of DNA storage, Church’s team married next-generation sequencing technology with a novel strategy to encode 1,000 times the largest amount of data previously stored in DNA. The team reports its results in the Aug. 17 issue of the journal Science.

The researchers used binary code to preserve the text, images and formatting of the book. While the scale is roughly what a 5 ¼-inch floppy disk once held, the density of the bits is nearly off the charts: 5.5 petabits, or 1 million gigabits, per cubic millimeter...

And where some experimental media—like quantum holography—require incredibly cold temperatures and tremendous energy, DNA is stable at room temperature. “You can drop it wherever you want, in the desert or your backyard, and it will be there 400,000 years later,” Church said...

About four grams of DNA theoretically could store the digital data humankind creates in one year...
While this project naturally raises questions about whether data could be stored in living organisms, the authors chose not to do so for practical reasons:
Although other projects have encoded data in the DNA of living bacteria, the Church team used commercial DNA microchips to create standalone DNA. “We purposefully avoided living cells,” Church said. “In an organism, your message is a tiny fraction of the whole cell, so there’s a lot of wasted space. But more importantly, almost as soon as a DNA goes into a cell, if that DNA doesn’t earn its keep, if it isn’t evolutionarily advantageous, the cell will start mutating it, and eventually the cell will completely delete it.
Via ExtremeTech and Reddit, where one of the authors discusses the work


  1. "The Church team..."

    Chuckle. Which Church that, then?

  2. Even more fascinating, and related: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lung_on_a_chip
    and http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/11/121107141044.htm
    so awesome


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