Scientists Experiment Storing Data With ‘DNA Fountain’

Image: Scientists Experiment Storing Data With 'DNA Fountain'A research technician prepares DNA samples to be sequenced at the New York Genome Center. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

Humanity has a data storage problem – and DNA might be the solution, according to new research reported Thursday in the journal Science.

According to Yaniv Erlich, a computer scientist at Columbia University, and Dina Zielinski, an associate scientist at the New York Genome Center, their “DNA Fountain” system is capable of storing 215 petabytes, which is 215 million gigabytes, in a single gram of DNA – making it theoretically capable of storing every bit of datum ever recorded in a container about the size and weight of a couple of pickup trucks, Science reported.

“DNA won’t degrade over time like cassette tapes and CDs, and it won’t become obsolete,” Erlich told the journal.

In their experiment, Erlich and and Zeilinski encoded a copy of the Kolibri computer operating system, an 1895 French film called “Arrival of a train at La Ciotat,” an Amazon gift card, a 1948 study by information theorist Claude Shannon, and an image of the plaque carried to the edge of the solar system by the Pioneer 10 and 11 space probes, The Wall Street Journal reported.

“Usually you see a real virus on DNA, so we added a computer virus to ours,” Erlich told the Journal, reporting that, when triggered, their virus writes trillions of zeros.

“It is a joke,” Erlich told the outlet.

It took their computer two or three minutes to turn all that into a DNA sequence.

Scientists have been storing digital data in DNA since 2012, when Harvard University geneticists George Church, Sri Kosuri, and colleagues encoded a 52,000-word book in thousands of snippets of DNA, Science reported.

“I love the work,” Kosuri, now a biochemist at the University of California, Los Angeles, told the journal Science about the new experiment.

“I think this is essentially the definitive study that shows you can [store data in DNA] at scale.”

The system is not ready for large-scale use yet, Science reported: the cost of synthesizing 2 megabyte of data in the files is $7,000 and another $2,000 to read it.


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