Data storage in human DNA now possible

A team of scientists has successfully stored and retrieved data using human DNA, an innovation that could replace hard drives and compact disks in storing files for thousands of years.

The team, led by scientists Nick Goldman and Ewan Birney based at the European Bioinformatics Institute (EBI) in Cambridge, was able to encode the binary code of 1s and 0s on a DNA sample that amounted to almost a megabyte of data.

“We already know that DNA is a robust way to store information because we can extract it from bones of woolly mammoths, which date back tens of thousands of years, and make sense of it,” said Goldman.

“It’s also incredibly small, dense and does not need any power for storage, so shipping and keeping it is easy.”

During the experiment, the encoded DNA code was sent to a biotechnology company in California, which turned it into physical DNA molecules which Emily Leproust of Agilent California described as “a tiny piece of dust”.

The scientists were able to extract with 100 percent accuracy, the information stored in the DNA molecules, hence the marking of the breakthrough with DNA data storage.

It is estimated that a cup of DNA can store over 100 million hours of high-definition video, information that can be stored for thousands of years without deterioration.

However, the DNA data storage has some disadvantages, such as the slow speed at which the data can be read back as compared to the current storage mediums.

Further, at commercial rates, the method would cost almost US$12,400 per megabyte stored, much more expensive than CDs and hard drives.

According to the scientists, however, the main advantage is the ability to store the information for thousands of years without the fear of data loss or deterioration.

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