Computing with DNA? No longer science fiction

Imagine storing all the e-mails, videos, documents, and other files on your computer and cell phone in a space the size of a dull pencil point. But you don’t have to imagine it; researchers at Microsoft and the University of Washington have done it.

The engineering team stored 200 megabytes of data – including graphics, high-speed video, the contents of 100 books, and other documents – in a dab of DNA. This sets a new record for the volume of information stored this way.

The concept of using DNA as a computer storage medium has been around for 50 years and has been the subject of experiments for more than 20. In a computer, data is stored as a series of ones and zeros; in DNA, data is stored as a series of four nucleotides – adenine, cytosine, guanine, and thymine. Engineers developed a way to translate the ones and zeros into nucleotide sequences and then manufacture a DNA molecule to embody those sequences.

In addition to holding oceans of data in a microscopic space, DNA has two other benefits. It can be stored unchanged for thousands of years in normal climatic conditions; and, unlike floppy disks or CDs, it’s never going to become obsolete. Engineers are working to overcome obstacles around the method’s cost and DNA’s stability.

TRENDPOST: Computing with DNA more closely joins the digital and biological realms of information and brings us closer to a time when digital devices could qualify as a life form.

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