Genetic information stored in DNA molecules makes life on Earth possible, but what if humans could use the same kind of technology to store their own data? Apparently, scientists have figured out how to save massive quantities of information in a single molecule of DNA, which will store the data safely for up to 1 million years.
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The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology has “fossilized” DNA by encapsulating it in glass, The Independent reports, to prolong the life of DNA that would store data. The scientists also came up with a mathematical algorithm that lets them decipher data written in DNA code.
The scientists are using the way DNA is built to store information. DNA is based on sequences of four chemical building blocks, referred to as A, C, T, and G, which are used to code information.
“A little after the discovery of the double helix architecture of DNA, people figured out that the coding language of nature is very similar to the binary language we use in computers,” Dr. Robert Grass said. “On a hard drive, we use zeros and ones to represent data, and in DNA we have four nucleotides, A, C, T and G.”
Scientists used a machine to synthesize DNA molecules, and they were heated to 71C for a week, or the equivalent of being stored at 50C for 2,000 years.
An ounce of DNA can fit on a penny, the news site writes, storing 300,000 terabytes of memory that can survive for up to 1 million years. Comparatively, an external hard drive with a capacity of a few terabytes can only last for up to 50 years.
The problem with this discovery is that there’s no affordable way of turning it into a commercial product just yet. Furthermore, reading information from a DNA drive isn’t user-friendly. You could read the entire thing, but you can’t pinpoint the location of individual data blocks stored in DNA. That’s the next challenge for the Swiss team.
“Right now, we can only read everything that’s in the drop. But I can’t point to a specific place within the drop and read only one file,” Grass said.