What’s Stored in DNA? An Old French Movie and a $50 Amazon Gift Card

So many people are now tapping into the internet and social media that the torrent of data they’re creating is outstripping the storage capacity of traditional devices such as hard drives, optical discs, and magnetic tape.

New research advances hope that the same genetic chemistry found in the building blocks of life may provide enough storage to handle the explosive growth of digital data; the entire internet in a single beaker.

The technology to encode digital information in DNA has progressed to the point where as much as 215 petabytes of data can be stored in a single gram of the material.  In fact, text, images, music videos, even an Amazon gift card bar code have all been encoded in DNA.

Last April, film industry giant Technicolor made DNA copies of a 1902 French silent film called “Voyage to The Moon,” widely considered the first science-fiction film.

DNA is also extremely stable — for example fragments of wooly mammoth DNA have been recovered from animals encased in permafrost.  Under dry storage conditions pure DNA should be even more long-lived.  Good luck reading a 10,000 year old DVD.

All told, the DNA process cost about $3,500 per megabyte of storage, comparable to the cost of the first computer magnetic disk drive introduced by the IBM Corp in 1956—a memory device so big it had it to be carried on a forklift. It could store 3.5 megabytes of data and leased for $3,200 a month.

The technology is still expensive and slow, but more improvements are on the way.  As an long-term archival material, it may be the storage medium of the future.

Read the news article at the Wall Street Journal, and the original scientific article in Science:  DNA Fountain enables a robust and efficient storage architecture.  More commentary is also here: DNA Could Store All the Worlds Data in One Room.


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