While online cloud storage is a fast-developing way to free up physical or even hard drive/disc space when looking for a place to keep items, the data still has to be held somewhere, but a new breakthrough could provide an unusual way to maintain information at a tiny fraction of the space.
A team of scientists in England have announced that they successfully ‘downloaded’ all 154 sonnets written by William Shakespeare onto strands of ‘synthetic DNA’, then decoding the binary data back into legible information ‘with complete accuracy’.
The technique also worked for a 26 second excerpt of Martin Luther King’s famous ’I Have A Dream’ speech, a photograph of the laboratory in which they were working, and a PDF-based copy of the ’Watson & Crick’ breakthrough research paper that described DNA itself, all stored on a strand of genetic code said to be of a similar size to ‘a speck of dust’.
Those behind the study noted that their material it is not compatible with human DNA (so for the time being you can shelve all plans of becoming an omnipotent human/information cyborg), but that it will ‘pave the way’ towards storing huge volumes of data long-term by applying a similar method to nature’s work on ‘the book of life’, storing large amounts of information for thousands of years.
The developers of the system, who worked alongside an American-based company to actually develop the physical storage medium, claim an interesting set of ‘theoretical’ applications for the synthetic DNA approach, including that all of the online encyclopdia website Wikipedia could fit on the size of a fingernail, 100 million hours of HD video (equivalent to every second of film and TV show ever produced) could be held in a ‘cupful of DNA’, 1g of the material could hold the equivalent of 1 million CD’s, while all information in the world of all-time could be stored in the space of 1.5 cubic metres, or the back of a car.
The DNA system, which in its trial took the appearance of a little finger-sized test tube containing a small amount of ‘dry dusty material’, and due to its nature can be stored with no electricity for ‘tens of thousands of years’. While it is noted as an expensive venture for the time being (albeit with the production costs rapidly declining), will synthetic DNA soon be used as the main way to hold data, using a maximum of one room rather than vast physical archives?
For a slightly more sizeable look at the visual content stored in the DNA trial (in more ways than one), Martin Luther King’s full speech can be seen below, while a discussion of the subject on radio station NPR can also be heard…