Monday, 17 August 2015

Researchers Demonstrate It is Possible to Preserve Digital Data in DNA Strands

A latest research conducted by a team of scientists from Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) has revealed that DNA could be used to store digital information for thousands of years, and this technique of digital data storage is more efficient than saving information on hard drives.

Image by すじにくシチュ
[CC0, GFDL, CC BY-SA 3.0]
via Wikimedia Commons
Scientists from ETH conducted a test which demonstrated error-free data download from DNA after a period of (equivalent of) 2,000 years. According to scientists, the next challenge now would be to find a technique for searching information stored in strands of DNA.

"If you go back to medieval times in Europe, we had monks writing in books to transmit information for the future, and some of those books still exist. Now, we save information on hard drives, which wear out in a few decades." said Dr Robert Grass, lead researcher from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH). According to Dr Grass, the "language" of DNA is quite similar to the binary language which is used in computers.


"A little after the discovery of the double helix architecture of DNA, people figured out that the coding language of nature is very similar to the binary language we use in computers." Dr Grass added. Data in binary language is stored in the form of zeros and one, while DNA code sequences use four chemical nucleotides - A, C, T and G. Dr Grass suggests a major advantage with DNA is that it can store much more information compared to a hard drive and is much more durable.

A paperback book size external hard drive can store five terabytes (TB) of data and might last for 50 years. However, according to scientific estimates, every cell in human body stores about 750 megabytes of genetic information, which means, theoretically, just one gram of DNA could store over 300,000 TB of data, and be sequenced even after thousands of years, if well preserved.

The team of researchers, in their experiments, encoded DNA with 83 kilobytes of text, which included a copy of Archimedes' work as well as the 1921 Swiss Federal Charter. The encoded DNA was then kept in silica spheres. Scientists heated the DNA to nearly 160 degrees Fahrenheit (71 degree Celsius) for about a week, which was equivalent of keeping the material for 2,000 years at 50 degree Fahrenheit (10 degree Celsius). When researchers decoded the DNA, it was found completely error-free.

Scientists are now trying to work out technique to label information on DNA strands and make them searchable. "In DNA storage, you have a drop of liquid containing floating molecules encoded with information."  said Dr Grass. "Right now, we can read everything that's in that drop. But I can't point to a specific place within the drop and read only one file."

Dr Grass also reveals that DNA storage presently is a very costly affair and storing just a few megabytes of information in DNA would cost thousands of dollars. In other words, it'll take many more years before consumers have an option to buy a DNA-based hard drive for storing their personal data.

The results of the DNA study will be presented at the 250th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS). A press event is being organized on Monday, Aug. 17, at 2:30 p.m. Eastern time in the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center.

Author: Devender Kundaliya