Molecular… storage?

Once upon a time we stored books, papers, vinyl records, and photograph albums. We put them on shelves, in boxes, in cramped attics. Now we store all of that treasured information as digital files on hard drives, or online somewhere far far away… But if this news is anything to go by, we could soon be storing our life’s most precious memories in flasks of DNA!

Yes, scientists have managed to create strands of DNA that encode Shakespeare’s sonnets, and a photo, and even a snippet of audio from Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech. The info was then translated back out with perfect accuracy.

What’s so great about DNA storage? How about the fact that DNA lasts for thousands and thousands of years? And takes up just the teeniest amount of space? Both rather important when it comes to storing loads and loads of information!

Of course, DNA-based storage isn’t about to happen tomorrow- it’s still incredibly expensive, and it would take a long time to retrieve data from its molecular encoding.

I asked a couple of tech-savvy friends for their opinion:

“Test-tube computing, once they sort out the speed (2 weeks to read an MP3!) and cost (their method costs about $12,400 per megabyte stored). Love the idea of being able to store all the world’s information in a unit the size of a shipping container.”

and

Well, this is just saying that DNA can be decoded and understood. Therefore electronic information can be encoded in a similar way DNA is encoded, and then decoded and read. Doesn’t mean it’s the best encoding/compression method. There are probably more optimized compression algorithms. Also the more technology advances, the less you want to use archiving/compression/encoding. It’s just an excuse to write an article!”

 
What do you and your students think about molecular storage? Would you trust your most precious memories to DNA?

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