Friday, January 25, 2013

Towards practical, high-capacity, low-maintenance information storage in synthesized DNA

The Economist reports on the fantastical idea of storing data on DNA:

... After a few more drinks and much scribbling on beer mats, what started out as a bit of amusing speculation had turned into the bones of a workable scheme. After some fleshing out and a successful test run, the full details were published this week in Nature.

... It should, think the researchers, be easily capable of swallowing the roughly 3 zettabytes (a zettabyte is one billion trillion or 10²¹ bytes) of digital data thought presently to exist in the world and still have room for plenty more. It would do so with a density of around 2.2 petabytes (10¹⁵) per gram; enough, in other words, to fit all the world’s digital information into the back of a lorry.

... Modern, digital storage technologies tend to come and go: just think of the fate of the laser disc, for example. In the early 2000s NASA, America’s space agency, was reduced to trawling around internet auction sites in order to find old-style eight-inch floppy drives to get at the data it had laid down in the 1960s and 1970s. But, says Dr Goldman, DNA has endured for more than 3 billion years. So long as life—and biologists—endure, someone should know how to read it.
From the entry in Nature:

"Current trends in technological advances are reducing DNA synthesis costs at a pace that should make our scheme cost-effective for sub-50-year archiving within a decade."

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