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Scientists Use DNA To Encode Entire 53,000-Word Book

DNA render

For the first time in scientific history, Harvard University researchers have successfully turned a 53,426-word book into DNA, the substance that creates our genetic templates. This is huge, and could lead to the use of DNA as a long-term storage medium.

According to the study published in the journal Science, the experiment was done to demonstrate how large amounts of data could be stored in DNA molecules. Since data is recorded on individual nucleobase pairs in the DNA strand, DNA has the unique ability to store more info per cubic millimeter than flash memory or other experimental storage technologies.

Of course, this isn’t easy. The translation to and from DNA is quite complex. Researchers began with the book’s content including text, 11 images, and a javascript program and convert it into binary code. Every 0 and 1 is assigned a nucleobase. It is then time to synthesize the DNA strand, which is 5.27 million bases long. They start by splitting it into groups of 96 bases, eventually compiling a book on a tiny speck of synthesized DNA that weighs about one-millionth the weight of a grain of sand.

Once the sequences were arranged, it was simple to decode back into binary code and then into the complete book as an HTML file. According to the researchers there were very few errors; only 10 bits out of 5.27 million.

Aside from the density of DNA storage, longevity and future-proofing are two big advantages as well. DNA lasts for thousands of years, and future societies will always have the technology to read it.

The only downsides are the costs, since this is obviously an expensive procedure, and that once a string of DNA is encoded, it cannot be written on again.

So uh, what in the world would you like to store in some DNA?

Image CC licensed by Micah Baldwin: DNA

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