Friday, February 1, 2013

Could DNA store all the world's data?

Across several news outlets this week, there's been talk of storing the world's data on DNA strands. You can read one of those articles here while Neil Lamb, HudsonAlpha's director of educational outreach, gives a bit more insight into exactly how the process would work...

Scientists have developed a method for storing documents, images and sound files inside the strands of the DNA double helix. The technology could open new avenues to keep copies of your favorite photos, that short story you wrote in fifth grade or those home movies of Christmas and birthday parties. Best of all, the technology would be safe for thousands of years and would take up less space than a tube of lipstick.

Let’s back up for a moment and discuss storing data. Information, whether from text, image or sound, is digitally encoded as long strings of 0s and 1s. Eight of these digits make up a “byte” of information. A typed page is made up of 2,000 bytes while a movie download contains about a billion bytes. It’s been estimated that all of the world’s digital data takes up roughly three zettabytes (a billion trillion bytes).

DNA also uses a code to store information. In this case the code is four chemical “bases” – adenosine (A), thymine (T), guanine (G) and cytosine (C). Several years ago, scientists began to look at how the digital code of 1s and 0s could be stored inside the DNA. The digital string of 0s and 1s is rewritten as a series of A,T,C and G. (Keep in mind, the DNA fragments used for storage have no biological function and are kept inside a vial rather than inside a cell.) When stored under particular conditions, the DNA is stable for tens of thousands of years. When it’s time to recover the information, the DNA is sequenced and the order of the bases converted back to the corresponding bytes.

Early attempts to store information as DNA code directly mapped 0s and 1s onto the bases – for example, a 0 was represented by A or C and a 1 by T and G. Unfortunately, this approach is problematic when the string of 0s and 1s leads to a repeat in the DNA sequence – like CCCCC. Current DNA sequencing technology struggles to correctly identify these repeat regions, miscalculating how many “Cs” are present and introducing errors into the numerical data.

Here’s where the recent media attention comes into play. Nick Goldman and colleagues at the European Bioinformatics Institute in the UK have devised a method to minimize the likelihood of copying errors. Rather than use a direct link between 0s and 1s and DNA bases, they devised an intermediate code that prevents repeating bases. To further reduce errors, the original code is split into fragments four different ways, with the breakpoints occurring at different locations each time. This way, if an error does occur, other copies of the same region can be used as comparison.

The scientific team encoded multiple files, including part of an MP3 recording of Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech, a text file of all the sonnets of William Shakespeare and a PDF of the 1953 paper by Francis Crick and James Watson describing the structure of DNA. All told, 757,000 bytes of information were encoded on over 153,000 DNA fragments. The scientists estimate their approach, which is described online in the journal Nature, can store over two petabytes (or two million billion bytes) of information on a single gram of DNA. That’s a mind-boggling amount of information contained in something about the size of 15 grains of sugar.

Speed and cost are the two biggest drawbacks to DNA-based storage. It took four days to synthesize the code into DNA and the process of sequencing and decoding the fragments required two weeks. The synthesis and decoding process costs $12,620 per megabyte of information – millions of times more expensive than storing data on magnetic tape. However, as technology continues to improve, both the price and timeframe are expected to drop dramatically. If current trends continue, the researchers estimate that in less than a decade DNA-based storage will be cost-effective for information stored 50 years or more. This could be especially useful for long-term archiving of governmental, historical or scientific data that only rarely would be accessed.

If you’ve ever had to search for a way to pull data from an old floppy disk, zip drive or VHS tape, you know how quickly digital storage technologies change. The researchers note DNA has been storing biological information for more than 3 billion years, meaning the odds are high it will be around in the future, available for conversion into whatever new technology civilizations are using to share data. Hang on to your CDs, DVDs and thumb drives a little bit longer, but this technology is certainly worth watching.

Dr. Neil Lamb is HudsonAlpha's director of 
educational outreach. Trained as a human geneticist, 
he now focuses his energy on creating programs and 
activities that help Alabama's teachers, students and the public understand genetics and biotechnology.


  1. awful piece of informationand let me tell you, your blog gives the best and the most interesting information. This is just the kind of information that i had been looking for i would regularly watch out for the new posts, once again hats off to you! Thanks a million once again, Regards, obiee training in hyderabad

  2. You need to be slightly peaceful with all the funds, given that acquiring top quality goods, regardless of manufacturer, will definitely cost an individual some funds. Consequently, acquire traditional fake tag heuer watches which can be costed aptly, making sure an individual regarding top quality along with manufacturer with a cheap. These kinds of fake omega not merely adjoin in your desirable bag assortment yet it's also possible to turn into a sensible customer that you can manage to have got several quite seeking bags on the benefit regarding individual braded carrier, today clearly you'll n't need to be able to abandon this kind of intelligent package! You can even use extended fake chanel handbags inside prom times. In case you are adolescent and definately will show up at prom night time, then you can certainly select the particular outfit together with fish tank fleshlight sleeves and also v-neck. As a possible accent, you can a great padded tie on the midsection. Yet when you are likely to show up at wedding, next use a lengthy outfit which includes only 1 glenohumeral joint. Extended night time outfit using a link in a glenohumeral joint which is attractively pleated can easily supply you with the best try the particular get together and also clearly you may seem stunning. Using this replica breitling watches, it is possible to set any pleated cell around the midsection. Look-alike artist bags will really deliver any laugh about your family confront particularly when they may be any trend nut. Extended replica longines watches are typically used inside conventional situations and so they deliver any conventional seems inside an individual. Nonetheless, today the particular pregnancy regarding extended / and also types are usually transforming due to fresh trend tips and also styles.

  3. The zoot fits turned into designed by the Omega Replica Dark-colored lighten ways of life in places like Harlem, Nyc then it eradicated in other Us locations like Detroit because replica watches uk few villages quickly adopted it. The cater to includes its model within the Asiatische Us terminology pronunciation of cater to. In the past the Rolex replica lady types of zoot fits turned into also popular but evolved into extinct throughout time. However, females zoot fits are also rarely seen at present with joint measurement skirts as Breitling Replica averse to tramas.

  4. Fantastic read, I simply passed this onto a partner who was additionally searching for it, And he really purchased me lunch on the grounds that I discovered it for him. So I ought to thank you for the free lunch I got. CD & DVD Duplication

  5. obiee training in Hyderabad
    we are offering best Obiee online training with work support and job assistance and high quality training facilities and well expert faculty
    for other details and register your demo contact
    obiee online training
    Institute : Vguru Online Trainings
    Contact number: +91-9885681705
    Email Id:

  6. After all, recovering data after a disaster is the reason for implementing a data migration plan in the first place.Self Storage

  7. replique de luxe montres, combinant un style élégant et une technologie de pointe, une variété de styles de replique panerai montres, le pointeur se place entre votre style gustatif exclusif.

  8. Thank you for this blog its informative because for interested people. But we are students and help all the junior students because we know that struggling and problem that why share to all about health care plan assignment. They are the help for all the students and write the their assignments and increase their knowledge about essays and assignments.

  9. The best Custom Homework Writer UK service can help you out to get the best grades. It will also help you in getting an opportunity to grow your skills and knowledge. When you use the services of such websites, you will not only score great grades, but you will also have a chance to learn new things.


  10. This blog contains fantastic and novel content. If you need any information about it, come here. In any case, contact Medical Surgical Nursing Dissertation Topics Service if you need assistance with your studies. I'd like to say that this blog will be fantastic for all of your writing needs because it contains brand-new academic writing content.

  11. This the very informative information for all their interested students there are many other types of things, but students are found that great like thesis help malaysia they are great for all the students they are prepared for their studies and increase their educational level.