Store Your Data in DNA: Cool, or What?

By Shlomo Maital   


  Science magazine reports that Harvard scientists, led by  Prof. George Church, have managed to store information in DNA.  This could well help solve the difficult problem of how to store the exponentially growing mass of information, that doubles every few years.  Silicon just won’t do the job in a few years. 

  How does this work?  Computer code converts information into binary 0,1 code.  Then a computer program converts the 0’s and 1’s into DNA letters  A, C, G and T. Those correspond to the four chemical bases that make up DNA.  (See diagram:  the double helix).  A machine then uses the A,C,G,T information to make DNA (it looks like a speck of dust – very very small).  Then the DNA goes into a DNA sequencing machine, the kind that Craig Venter and his Genome project helped develop.  The sequencing machine reads back the DNA fragments as the letters A,C,G and T.  Finally, a computer translates the A,C,G and T letters back into 0,1 code (binary) – and presto, the data is recovered and restored.

   According to the Wall St. Journal, which reported the breakthrough, a cupful of DNA could store 100 million hours of video, and it could last for thousands of years. 

   Right now, the process is expensive. But it will become cheaper. Perhaps one day,  Harry (biology) really will meet, and mate with, Sally (physics), for the benefit of humanity.  Perhaps one day,   our pet salamander will actually store the family’s financial data in its liver.   Well, perhaps not – if the cat eats it, there goes our wealth.