Our world is becoming increasingly digitized. Personal data, pictures, videos, music – everything is stored digitally and hardly ever stored in analog form. But the digital hard drives and data storage devices are perishable and can no longer be used after decades. There is a natural way to permanently store data for thousands of years: our DNA. Researchers at the Technical University of Munich have now succeeded in storing the first episode of the TV series “Biohackers” on synthetic DNA. This is what the research team reports in a publication entitled “Reading and writing digital data in DNA”.
In simplified terms, the principle is quite straightforward. The sequence of the four DNA bases adenine (A), thymine (T), guanine (G) and cytosine (C) is used for coding the data instead of whole zeros and ones. The numbers become letters. The bases normally contain the building instructions for proteins and serve as control units for cellular processes. A study from last year already provided information about the process.
It is also advantageous that the DNA strands are very robust and can be stored for a long time. If the strands are then also enclosed in silicate capsules, they can be preserved for several thousand years, reports Reinhard Heckel, assistant professor at the Technical University of Munich and co-author of the study.
Up to 200 million terabytes on one gram of DNA
The first episode of the recently released TV series “Biohackers” consisted of 600 million zeros and ones, which have now been recoded to the four DNA bases, reports “Scinexx”. An algorithm developed by Heckel is intended to prevent errors when writing, storing and reading the DNA.
The new method for storing data is still expensive and quite complex. Heckel wants to continue researching in the field and improve the methods, as this allows up to 200 exabytes (200 million terabytes) to be stored on just one gram of DNA. An unimaginably large amount of data.
So far, the so-called “DNA data storage” is in its infancy. However, the technology is expected to be simplified and cheaper in the coming years. “Whole libraries, all films, photos, music, knowledge of any kind – as far as they can be represented in data – could be stored on DNA and thus be available to mankind forever,” enthuses Heckel.