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Scientists code a movie, PC software, and $50 Amazon gift card onto DNA

Published Mar 3rd, 2017 6:30PM EST

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DNA makes us what we are, and it holds a ton of information about each and every one of us. Scientists have been slowly making progress on getting it to hold other kinds of information, too, and some brand new research shows just how powerful DNA storage can be. A scientist duo from Columbia University, working with the New York Genome Center, have managed to pack a whole bunch of data onto DNA molecules and then reliably retrieve it in perfect condition. 

Scientists Yaniv Erlich and Dina Zielinski dramatically increased the capacity of DNA storage while using a new process they dubbed “DNA Fountain.” Digital data is converted from binary into chunks of digits that are then translated into DNA base pairs. Each portion of the DNA data is also given an identifier so that it can be easily placed back into the correct order when converting it back into a digital file.

So what did the duo decide to use to test their method? A whole bunch of seemingly random things, including a complete “computer operating system,” a computer virus, a digital copy of a 1895 French short film called Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat, a plaque, a scientific study from the late 1940s, and — wait for it — a $50 Amazon gift card.

Once they converted all that data into DNA-compatible information, they sent it to Twist Bioscience, a San Francisco startup specializing in DNA synthesis. The resulting DNA was sent back in a tiny vial and then read via sequencing hardware. The files were able to be recovered in completely perfect condition with zero errors. It’s a small but extremely important achievement, and could help pave the way for much more advanced DNA storage concepts in the future. Put simply, your computer hard drive’s days are numbered.