Researchers at Microsoft and the University of Washington have stored a record 200 megabytes of data on strands of DNA.
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Digital versions of art (including a high-def OK Go! video), the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 100-plus languages, the top 100 Project Gutenberg books, and nonprofit Crop Trust's seed database are now saved in deoxyribonucleic acid.
The "early but important milestone" managed to encode mass amounts of data onto synthetic DNA, which occupied test tube space "much smaller than the tip of a pencil," according to Douglas Carmean, Microsoft's partner architect overseeing the project.
"This of the amount of data in a big data center compressed into a few sugar cubes. Or all the publicly accessible data on the Internet slipped into a shoebox," Redmond said in a blog post. "That is the promise of DNA storage—once scientists are able to scale the technology and overcome a series of technical hurdles."
The cloud, though a popular solution among many home and business users, can't possibly hold all the information in the growing world. According to Microsoft, DNA could be the answer. Compact and durable, genetic codes will always be current.
"As long as there is DNA-based life on the planet, we'll be interested in reading it," Karin Strauss, principal Microsoft researcher on the project, said in a statement. "So it's eternally relevant."
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To store digital data (like the OK Go! music video), information is first translated from 0s and 1s into the "letters" that make up a DNA strand: (A)denine, (C)ytosine, (G)uanine, and (T)hymine. Project partner Twist Bioscience translates those electronic letters into molecules and sends them back in a test tube.
"You can barely see what's in it," Strauss said. "It looks like a little bit of salt was dried on the bottom."
From there, the team users a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) to multiply the strands it wants to recover, then takes a sample, sequences or decodes the DNA, and runs error correction computations.
Sounds simple enough, right?
Just don't expect to open a gene farm in your basement any time soon. While the biotechnology industry is making great strides, DNA as a viable archival technology is still years away.