Human DNA Could Store 100 Million DVDs Worth of Data

As strange as it sounds, DNA could become the storage medium of choice in the future for its amazing ability to store nearly 100 million DVDs worth of data. Some scientists are saying that DNA could help handle the growing storage needs of today's information society.

On Wednesday, researchers reported that they had successfully stored all 154 Shakespeare sonnets, a photo, a scientific paper, and a 26-second sound clip from Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech. All this fit into a barely visible bit of DNA in a test tube.

So how did they do it?

The process of storing the information involved converting the ones and zeroes of digital information into the four-letter alphabet of DNA code. This code was used to create strands of synthetic DNA. Machines then "read" the DNA molecules and recovered the encoded information. The reading process took two weeks, but Ewan Birney of the Europea Bioinformatics Institute in Hinxton, England, a co-author of the report published online in the journal Nature, says that technological advances are driving that time down.

The researchers said that DNA could be useful for keeping large amounts of information that must be kept for long periods of time, but not retrieved very often. Storing the DNA would be simple enough, they say. It just needs to be left in a cold, dry, and dark place and left alone.

Co-author Nick Goldman of the institute also said that in the near term, the technology might work for large archives that have to be kept safe for centuries, like national historical records or huge library holdings. He says that in a decade or so, it might become feasible for consumers to store information that they want to have around in 50 years, such as wedding photos or videos for future grandchildren.

The researchers said that they have no plans to put storage DNA into any living things, and noted that it could not accidentally become a part of the genetic machinery of a living thing due to its coding scheme.