The Real (and Virtual) Adventures of Nathan the IT Guy

Aug 21 2012   12:40PM GMT

Storing Data in DNA

Nathan Simon Nathan Simon Profile: Nathan Simon

Wow, I guess we should have seen this coming, but when they talk about it, and make progress, it gets so much more real… They say that the whole internet can be stored on the end of your thumb. Not “your” thumb, but the amount of DNA required to store however many exabytes of data, 1 exabyte is 1,000 terabytes. Eric Schmidt, the CEO of Google, the world’s largest index of the Internet, estimated the size at roughly 5 million terabytes of data. That’s over 5 billion gigabytes of data, or 5 trillion megabytes. Schmidt further noted that in its seven years of operations, Google has indexed roughly 200 terabytes of that, or .004% of the total size.

So, how does it work? DNA has its own language, containing a genetic code of four chemicals called bases: adenine (A), guanine (G), cytosine (C) and thymine (T). Robert Lee Hotz’s article in the Wall Street Journal explains how the researchers translated the digital version of the book, composed of the ones and zeros binary code that computers read, into strands of DNA that each contained a section of the text.

“The Harvard researchers started with the digital version of the book…Next, on paper, they translated the zeros into either the A or C of the DNA base pairs, and changed the ones into either the G or T. Then, using now-standard laboratory techniques, they created short strands of actual DNA that held the coded sequence—almost 55,000 strands in all. Each strand contained a portion of the text and an address that indicated where it occurred in the flow of the book. In that form—a viscous liquid or solid salt—a billion copies of the book could fit easily into a test tube and, under normal conditions, last for centuries, the researchers said.”

The test tube version of the book retains all the original contents, containing 53,426 words, 11 illustrations and a JavaScript computer program. Bio-engineer, Sriram Kosuri, and the project’s lead researcher notes, harnessing DNA in this way meant that the data is stored “[sequentially], like a magnetic tape.” source

Now they just have to harness this technology in thumb drives, but we all know they wouldn’t allow that! Not many thumb drives out there that are over 256GB, wouldn’t want to put hard disk drive makers out of business! There is no word on how fast DNA as storage will be, so I guess we just wait and see,

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