It’s said that the printing press was one of the most influential inventions of all time. It made books cheaply available to everyone by reducing the printing process to a single machine instead of 10 monks sitting in a tower transcribing everything word by word. You could argue that e-books and e-readers are the modern equivalent of the printing press, but they’re only the beginning.
Researchers at Harvard Medical School have successfully encoded the contents of a book to a string of DNA. The book was written by the researchers and contained 53,000 words, 11 images and some software. All of the information from the book was stored artificially using the same stuff that makes up our bodies.
You may be wondering how DNA can actually store information. It’s quite easy really because DNA has always stored information. It contains all the information that makes up the human body so it obviously has plenty of space for storage. How much storage? One gram of DNA can store up to 455 billion GB. The total amount of data used in the world is 2.7 zettabytes which means that a single gram of DNA can hold almost a quarter of the world’s data.
DNA writing is still in its early stages though. We can’t take full advantage of it just yet, but the storage of a book is a massive breakthrough. The book and accompanying data took up 5.27 megabits which is a new record as far as DNA writing goes.
The most exciting thing about DNA storage is that its quickly dropping in price. The researchers estimate that the technology will go mainstream within five to 10 years. They say that it may be even cheaper than traditional forms of storage like magnetic hard drives, solid state drives and flash drives.
For now, the researchers are just making sure they can make the storage of information on DNA fool proof. The 5.27 megabits of data that made up the book didn’t make it into the DNA completely safe as 10 sectors were flagged for errors.
Of course, all of this might bring up some concern over the use of DNA as a storage medium. The researchers used artificial DNA for their experiment. They also said that using real DNA could cause “unnecessary complications.” As you can see, DNA storage is both ethical and efficient.
Now excuse me while I get my hands on a DNA sequencer. I’ve always wanted to implant Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas into my DNA. If I do that, future generations may have an increased appreciation for Hunter S. Thompson.[h/t: The Guardian]