Scientists who encoded the book say it could soon be cheaper to store information in DNA than in conventional digital devices
Scientists have for the first time used DNA to encode the contents of a book. At 53,000 words, and including 11 images and a computer program, it is the largest amount of data yet stored artificially using the genetic material.
A three-strong team led by Professor George Church of Harvard Medical School has now demonstrated that the technology to store data in DNA, while still slow, is becoming more practical. They report in the journal Science that the 5.27 megabit collection of data they stored is more than 600 times bigger than the largest dataset previously encoded this way.
To demonstrate its system in action, the team used the DNA chips to encode a genetics book co-authored by Church. It worked. After converting the book into DNA and translating it back into digital form, the team’s system had a raw error rate of only two errors per million bits, amounting to a few single-letter typos. That is on par with DVDs and far better than magnetic hard drives. And because of their tiny size, DNA chips are now the storage medium with the highest known information density, the researchers report online today in Science.
Don’t replace your flash drive with genetic material just yet, however. The cost of the DNA sequencer and other instruments "currently makes this impractical for general use," says Daniel Gibson, a synthetic biologist at the J. Craig Venter Institute in Rockville, Maryland, "but the field is moving fast and the technology will soon be cheaper, faster, and smaller." [...]
The researchers used binary code to preserve the text, images and formatting of the book. While the scale is roughly what a 5 1/4-inch floppy disk once held, the density of the bits is nearly off the charts: 5.5 petabits, or 1 million gigabits, per cubic millimeter. "The information density and scale compare favorably with other experimental storage methods from biology and physics," said Sriram Kosuri, a senior scientist at the Wyss Institute and senior author on the paper. The team also included Yuan Gao, a former Wyss postdoc who is now an associate professor of biomedical engineering at Johns Hopkins University.
Drawbacks to a DNA hard driveDNA data storage
still has a long way to go before it makes an appearance in the local
Best Buy, however. Storing even a small amount of data is still costly.
Kosuri and his colleagues' book cost them thousands of dollars to
synthesize and sequence, Kosuri said, and it was less than a megabyte in
size. Larger works would probably cost proportionately more to make,
Lonardi said. Meanwhile, a $10 flash drive can store 16 gigabytes of
Kosuri's method is not rewriteable, so once some data has been stored, it can't be altered.