DNA Files Used to Store "I Have A Dream" Speech, Shakespeare's Sonnets
January 24, 2013 1:16 PM
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Researcher Nick Goldman holds the DNA
(Source: European Molecular Biology Laboratory)
The only issue with this technique is that it's very expensive (over $10,000)
A team of scientists has found a way to store important text and audio files, such as Shakespeare's sonnets and Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I have a dream" speech, in
Over the years, we've seen the evolution of storage devices range from floppy discs, to compact discs, to flash drives, etc. The problem is that digital files can take up a lot of space, and magnetic tapes need to be rewritten every few years to preserve the information.
While discussing the issue over beers, Nick Goldman and Ewan Birney, both from the European Bioinformatics Institute in the UK, came up with the idea to store text and audio on DNA since it could store files without electricity for thousands of years.
To see if it would work, the researchers converted the 0s and 1s of a computer file into letters that make up genetic code. From there, they took bits of the "I have a dream" speech and Shakespeare's sonnets and
encoded them into DNA letters
. They even added a picture of their institution, and the end result was a nearly invisible piece of dust in a test tube.
What's great about this method is that it makes multiple, overlapping copies of pieces of DNA, and this offers a built-in error-checking system.
The only issue with this technique is that it's very expensive. In fact, it would cost more than $10,000 to use a gene-sequencing machine to read the DNA. It also took about two weeks.
While this isn't practical right now, the team said costs and time would improve over the years. In the future, this could be an ideal way to retrieve information without worrying about space and degradation.
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RE: 2 Weeks Write Time.
1/25/2013 9:46:55 AM
Yes, but the point here is long term storage. Magentic media deteriorates over time (even hard drives). SSDs are high capacity but they are teeny tiny electronic devices that are known to fail over time even in normal use cases. Paper, obviously, has an annoying tendency to rot away. Metal inscriptions can suffer from catastrophic oxidation.
These types of destruction happen on a scale of mere years.
The three best ways to preserve information for thousands of years is going to be far more extreme and mechanically simpler:
A: Make deep cuts in a hard stone that can resist weathering. We know that works!
B: Same as A, but use a non-corroding metal such as Gold or something really hard like diamond. Far more expensive than stone but easier to justify being maintained in a high security location beyond the reach of Nature.
I sort of doubt either of these two options are attractive!
C: Use the information technology that has proven its worth in retaining information with self-correcting mechanisms and redundancy across countless years (barring the odd infrequent cosmic ray or radiation induced bit corruption) - DNA!
It really is a fascinating idea but the core problem will be latency - it would take a long time to procedurally read DNA strands (not to mention inventing a sequential or reference based storage medium for lots of DNA).
RE: 2 Weeks Write Time.
1/25/2013 5:22:28 PM
It would still require some special storage conditions to make sure the DNA last for a long period of time. Oxygen can even cause damage to DNA so that would need to be regulated as well as high temperatures, any type of denaturing conditions( organic solvents, chlorine, ect).
Can imagine putting a drop of sulfuric acid in a vial with 1g of DNA and wiping out most of recorded history in one fell swoop.
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