An Alternative to Storing Data Using Optics and Magnetics

How about DNA?

Just read this fascinating article describing research into storing digital data inside actual strands of DNA. Not inside a person’s DNA, of course – but by creating in a lab actual strands of real DNA encoding with information such as, say… your PowerPoint presentation for the sales meeting.

The Economist | Storing information in DNA: Test-tube data via @theeconomist

The advantages:

  • Unlike optical or magnetic storage which degrades over time fairly quickly, DNA information (e.g., the woolly mammoth captured in amber) can last for millions of years in the right conditions.
  • Also unlike our various implementations of optical and magnetic storage (e.g., the 5.25-inch floppy or the laser disc video) which are eventually unreadable simply because the device we need to do the reading is no longer available, DNA encoding can be understood and read by anyone today or tomorrow who has an interest in biology. In other words, it’s hard to imagine a future human community which does not know how to read DNA.
  • Once perfected, this type of technology could theoretically store all of today’s world’s existing data inside the back of one truck. 🙂

The disadvantages:

  • It currently costs about $12,000 per megabyte to store the data.
  • It currently takes something like a week to read back that data.

So… we’ve got a long way to go.


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