Archives could last for thousands of years when stored in DNA instead of magnetic tapes and hard drives
LIKE all the best ideas, this one was born in a pub. Nick Goldman and Ewan Birney of the European Bioinformatics Institute (EBI) near Cambridge, were pondering what they could do with the torrent of genomic data their research group generates, all of which has to be archived.
The volume of data is growing faster than the capacity of the hard drives used to hold it. “That means the cost of storage is rising, but our budgets are not,” says Dr Goldman. Over a few beers, the pair began wondering if artificially constructed DNA might be one way to store the data torrent generated by the natural stuff. After a few more drinks and much scribbling on beer mats, what started out as a bit of amusing speculation had turned into the bones of a workable scheme. After some fleshing out and a successful test run, the full details were published this week in Nature.
The idea is not new. DNA is, after all, already used to store information in the form of genomes by every living organism on Earth. Its prowess at that job is the reason that information scientists have been trying to co-opt it for their own uses. But this has not been without problems.
Dr Goldman’s new scheme is significant in several ways. He and his team have managed to set a record (739.3 kilobytes) for the amount of unique information encoded. But it has been designed to do far more than that. It should, think the researchers, be easily capable of swallowing the roughly 3 zettabytes (a zettabyte is one billion trillion or 10²¹ bytes) of digital data thought presently to exist in the world and still have room for plenty more. It would do so with a density of around 2.2 petabytes (10¹?) per gram; enough, in other words, to fit all the world’s digital information into the back of a lorry. Moreover, their method dramatically reduces the copying errors to which many previous DNA storage attempts have been prone.
via The Economist
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