DNA: The Gift that Keeps on GivingScientists have found that not only does DNA store genetic information, but that it can store other types of information as well. This is not the first time that this feat has been attempted, but the scientists have devised a new technique.
Researchers at the European Bioinformatics Institute (EBI) were able to use synthetic DNA molecules to store digital information. These researchers were then able to recreate the information from the DNA without any problems. The files that they used consisted of 154 of Shakespeare's sonnets, along with a color digital photo, scientific paper, and an excerpt from a Martin Luther King Jr. speech. In total, the data was 739 kilobytes.
This new technique that researchers are using includes software that corrects errors. Their main goal is to move toward storing large amounts of data with no problems. The New York Times interviewed Nick Goldman, the leader author of the paper published by the EBI.
In this interview, Dr. Goldman expresses his hopes about this new technique, but admits that the costs of this type of technology are rather high at this point in time. While he knows the project has a great amount of potential, he worries that it is currently too expensive to write data onto DNA in large quantities. The experiment that he and his group of researchers worked on can theoretically be used on a greater scale but they were unable to test this.
In order to make this method more likely to be used in the real world, Dr. Goldman has some ideas. He wants to work on improving the coding and decoding of the DNA in order to fit more information on it and lower the cost of such a practice. He also believes that the team could use less error-correction software and therefore leave more room for other information. Another of his ideas is to "automate and miniaturize." He says that all of the technology necessary for this already exists, but that'd it be more cost and time efficient if it all existed in one place. He hopes for a lab where the DNA can be synthesized, stored, and miniaturized.
According to Dr. Goldman, the sequencing of the DNA is the same as what is used in modern gene-sequencing systems. His team's experiment was designed to use the same technology that their peers are familiar with. As for the writing of the data onto the DNA, he admits he is not accustomed to. He compares it to "an inkjet printing system." The inspiration for the project, he says, was his own experiences at the EBI archiving and maintaining data while having to deal with running out of space for it. The experiment was done in hopes of designing a better method of dealing with the issue of storage space.
The success of this experiment seems to lead credence to the idea that our bodies function at least somewhat similarly to a computer. Of course, it's not completely the same, but who says robots with synthetic DNA storing memories couldn't be used in the future? Blade Runner, anyone?