Applied Intelligent Design: Storing Information on DNA
A new paper has just been published in Nature reporting on the successful use of DNA to store large amounts of data including Shakespearean sonnets and an MP3 file. Reports the abstract,
Digital production, transmission and storage have revolutionized how we access and use information but have also made archiving an increasingly complex task that requires active, continuing maintenance of digital media. This challenge has focused some interest on DNA as an attractive target for information storage because of its capacity for high-density information encoding, longevity under easily achieved conditions and proven track record as an information bearer. Previous DNA-based information storage approaches have encoded only trivial amounts of information or were not amenable to scaling-up, and used no robust error-correction and lacked examination of their cost-efficiency for large-scale information archival. Here we describe a scalable method that can reliably store more information than has been handled before. We encoded computer files totalling 739 kilobytes of hard-disk storage and with an estimated Shannon information of 5.2 × 106 bits into a DNA code, synthesized this DNA, sequenced it and reconstructed the original files with 100% accuracy. Theoretical analysis indicates that our DNA-based storage scheme could be scaled far beyond current global information volumes and offers a realistic technology for large-scale, long-term and infrequently accessed digital archiving. In fact, current trends in technological advances are reducing DNA synthesis costs at a pace that should make our scheme cost-effective for sub-50-year archiving within a decade.Truly, DNA is a remarkable information storage medium. One naturally wonders whether the clear intelligent design implications of this project crossed the minds of the paper's authors. In terms of efficiency, DNA far surpasses any current manmade technology and can last for thousands of years. To get a handle on this, consider that 1 petabyte is equivalent to 1 million gigabytes of information storage. This paper reports an information storage density of 2.2 petabytes per gram.
The paper argues that since "existing technologies for copying DNA are highly efficient," this makes DNA an "excellent medium for the creation of copies of any archive for transportation, sharing or security." The authors conclude that "DNA-based storage has potential as a practical solution to the digital archiving problem and may become a cost-effective solution for rarely accessed archives."
The supplementary information document provides interesting facts on "the amounts of human-designed information stored in DNA and successfully recovered in this letter and 16 previous studies," as well as the types of information encoded.