Last Wednesday, a group of researchers at the European Bioinformatics Institute reported in the journal Nature that they had managed to store digital information in synthetic DNA molecules, then recreated the original digital files without error.
The amount of data, 739 kilobytes all told, is hardly prodigious by today’s microelectronic storage standards: all 154 of Shakespeare’s sonnets, a scientific paper, a color digital photo of the researchers’ laboratory, a 26-second excerpt from the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech and a software algorithm. Nor is this the first time digital information has been stored in DNA.
But the researchers said their new technique, which includes error-correction software, was a step toward a digital archival storage medium of immense scale. Their goal is a system that will safely store the equivalent of one million CDs in a gram of DNA for 10,000 years.
If the new technology proves workable, it will have arrived just in time. The lead author, the British molecular biologist Nick Goldman, said he had conceived the idea with a colleague, Ewan Birney, while the two sat in a pub pondering the digital fire hose of genetic information their institute is now receiving — and the likelihood that it would soon outpace even today’s chips and disk drives, whose capacity continues to double roughly every two years, as predicted by Moore’s law.
The telephone interview with Dr. Goldman, from his laboratory in Hinxton, near Cambridge, has been edited and condensed. READ MORE