Many of us have wondered- what is the future for information storage? Currently we rely on mechanical devices as USB flash drives and SSDs to store data. Empirically we know that mechanical devices are prone to failure, primarily due to the incredibly useful (and painful) force called friction. This is not good if we want the future to easily access our ideas and thoughts (and eventually laugh at them)! Then why not turn to biology/chemistry- where sometimes reactions can be sped up to 10^17 times (OMP Decarboxylase) and with fidelity up to 10^9 (DNA Pol Processivity)? As previously mentioned in these posts, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” So once again, we attempt to replicate an idea from Nature.
The mention of DNA probably gave away the method- but yes, encoding data into DNA is becoming a developing topic in biochemistry. Binary encryption uses “0” or “1” to store information, so DNA stores information similarly by assigning “0” to “A” (or “C”- the base pair) and “1” to “T”/”G”. But certainly there can be problems in encoding, considering DNA’s generally conserved structure or even DNA damage over time. The key is to use the Reed-Solomon Code to encode the information in such a way that no base is repeated more than 3 times. For a 83 Kb document, the error rate of incorporation was roughly 0.7 nucleotides. Pretty good, I’d say.
But what’s the big fuss? Why could this be important? Well one, consider the length of DNA. 1 g of DNA can store roughly 450 exabytes of data- all of Google’s and Facebook’s data with plenty of space to spare! The key, of course, is stability and recovery- that is the ability to store this mini “time capsule” and recover the data encoded in the DNA sequence after a given period of time. This new study that used a 83 kb file showed stability after four DNA half-lives, which is similar to stability in the Global Seed Vault (-18 degrees C) for 2 million years. Yes, 2 million years. Start preparing the biochemistry bandwagon, cause I’m jumping right on!