Books of the Future May Be Written in DNA

Researchers have encoded a book, including pictures and an accompanying computer program, in DNA

Richard Wheeler


Does this mean anything to you? Maybe not, but researchers have filled a whole book with it. It’s the stuff of life, genetic code. And within 5 to 10 years it might replace conventional digital devices for storing information.

One gram of DNA can store up to 455 billion gigabytes, or the contents of more than 100 billion DVDs, and the stuff is getting easier and cheaper to synthesize at an ever increasing rate, according to the Guardian. This makes DNA an excellent storage device for our increasingly data-filled world.

Researchers from Harvard tried their hand at harnessing this potential method, genetically encoding a book’s 53,000 words and 11 images, plus a computer program thrown in for good measure. Their collection totalled 700 terabytes, which is about 600 times larger than any other dataset previously encoded this way.

To make this work, DNA acts as any other digital storage device. As Extreme Tech explains, instead of binary data being encoded in the usual way as magnetic regions on a hard drive, strands of DNA are synthesized with each of the bases (TGAC) representing a binary value. T and G equal 1, for example, while A and C equal 0. Different combinations of Ts, Gs, As and Cs coded for each letter of the alphabet. The researchers split the data into shorter fragments to make each strand of DNA cheaper to synthesize and more reliable, and they created an address book listing the locations of each bit of information.

The method is not fool proof – but almost. The book, an html volume authored by the researchers, contained only 10 errors in its 700 terabytes.

Extreme Tech is already envisioning the method’s potenital:

It’s also worth noting that it’s possible to store data in the DNA of living cells — though only for a short time. Storing data in your skin would be a fantastic way of transferring data securely.

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