As technology quickly progresses, we’re able to fit larger amounts of data into increasingly smaller physical spaces. A few years ago Microsoft teamed up with researchers at the University of Washington’s computer science and engineering department, with some help from startup Twist Bioscience to create a DNA data storage project.
According to the Verge: “The idea has been in the proof of concept stage for years, and so far, the information stored has been modest”.
In four years the project has made leaps and bounds. Harvard Medical School researchers stored a digital book in DNA in 2012. A year later the European Bioinformatics Institute copied 739 kilobytes of data, including a 26-second audio clip of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. “More recently, Harvard Medical School and a Technicolor research group reported storing and retrieving 22 megabytes that included French silent film A Trip to the Moon”.
The most recent break in the DNA storage project, was a 202-megabyte cache that included copies of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in different languages, the top 100 books from Project Gutenberg, the Crop Trust seed database, and the music video to OK Go’s “This Too Shall Pass”.
The Verge explains how researchers store the data to DNA:
“In order to write data to DNA, researchers translate the binary code of a file into the nucleotide molecules that form DNA’s building blocks, assigning different base pairs to represent ones and zeroes”.
While 200MB isn’t all that much, a report from last year has said that a DNA cluster the size of a grain of sand could hold an exabyte, or about a million terabytes. The cost is still incredibly high, but researchers say it’s coming down rapidly.
It’s fascinating to see what science will come up with next.