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British scientists believe they have developed a technique that will enable them to store computer files in DNA code.
Data storage takes up a huge amount of space. It is estimated that there is now 3 zettabytes (3000 billion billion bytes) of digital data, with more being generated all the time.
Also, storage media such as hard disks are expensive and require a constant supply of expensive electricity, and even the best ‘no-power’ archiving materials e.g. magnetic tape degrade within a decade.
It is estimated that, if all the data on the internet was stored in DNA, it would be the size of a shoebox, and that every bit of datum ever recorded by humans could fit in a container about the size and weight of a couple of pickup trucks.
Using DNA could, therefore, provide a highly effective, ultra-compact space-saving solution, that doesn’t require large amounts of costly electricity.
Also, DNA can keep for hundreds of thousands of years if kept in a cool, dry place. Data stored in DNA won’t degrade over time, and it can be decoded relatively easily.
Another advantage of DNA is that it won’t become obsolete, and unlike other high-density approaches, new technologies can write and read large amounts of DNA in one go.
Synthesized DNA as a storage medium could, therefore, provide a very practical, high-capacity, robust, low-maintenance information storage solution long into the future.
Scientists from the European Bioinformatics Institute have developed a method whereby the basis of digital data, which is made up of ones and zeros, is changed into their own code as Cs, Gs, and Ts.
This converted code is then sent to a US laboratory, which turns the letter code into physical DNA, so that it can act like an incredibly small hard drive. The laboratory uses DNA synthesis machines to transform the code into physical material in a similar way to how an inkjet printer lays down ink on paper. The physical result is a tiny piece of dust with the vital digital data stored inside. An estimated 215 petabytes (215 million gigabytes) of data could be stored in a single gram of DNA.
The potential of using DNA storage was highlighted back in 2013 when scientists in Cambridge spelled out a collection of Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets in DNA.
As you may expect, the costs of DNA data storage in the next 5 year period are expected to be very high, although experts believe that in the next 10 to 15 years, a more affordable system may be more widely available.
Although the cost of this new storage system is likely to be prohibitively high to the vast majority of business it does hold a lot of promise for years to come. DNA storage could, in the long run, allow businesses to store and back up incredible amounts of data in a very convenient way with dramatically reduced space, equipment, and electricity costs, and to be assured that the data could be stored, without decay, for many thousands of years. The potential and real value of such a system is something that will only truly be understood by future generations.