Scientists Try to Store Computer Files in DNA

06 March, 2017, 00:52 | Author: Sam Montgomery
  • Yaniv Erlich and Dina Zielinski. Credit New York Genome Center

In a new study in Science, a pair of researchers at Columbia University and the New York Genome Center (NYGC) show that an algorithm designed for streaming video on a cellphone can unlock DNA's almost full storage potential by squeezing more information into its four base nucleotides.

The latest record was established by a group of researchers from Columbia University and from the New York Genome Center.

Scientists Yaniv Erlich and Dina Zielinski dramatically increased the capacity of DNA storage while using a new process they dubbed "DNA Fountain". Here, as Digital Journal has reported, DNA has been used as a scaffold and then assemble other materials on the DNA to form electronics.

So what did the duo decide to use to test their method? They successfully encoded a full computer operating system, an 1895 French film called "Arrival of a train at La Ciotat", a $50 Amazon gift card, a computer virus, a Pioneer plaque, and a 1948 study by information theorist Claude Shannon.

Twist Bioscience, a well known leader in synthesized DNA, synthesized DNA strands from the info provided by the scientists. They recovered their files with zero errors. Today we have learned of a significant advancement in the technology being devised to make DNA data storage tech realise its full potential in terms of capacity and durability. From this the data was split into short strings of binary code.

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With the data encapsulated within the DNA, the researchers were able to retrieve the data using DNA sequencing and software to translate it back into binary with zero errors in the code. The biggest disadvantages are time and money. In a few weeks Erlich and Zielinski received a vial containing the DNA molecules they coded.

Erlich also believes that it's time to move to a better technology.

Well, according to the paper submitting by the research team, with this revolutionary method we can pretty soon wave bye-bye to conventional storage methods such as hard-disk, blue-rays or memory disks. This density comes much closer (85 per cent) to the theoretical max data density of storage on DNA, easily beating rival approaches such as a 2012 Harvard University study which packed "only" 1.28 petabytes per gram of DNA. To copy the data, it's just a matter of multiplying the DNA sample through polymerase chain reaction (PCR). But none has been able to store more than half of what researchers think DNA can actually handle, about 1.8 bits of data per nucleotide of DNA.

The main barrier at the moment of bringing this into commercialisation is cost as the synthesising of the DNA cost them $7,000, and another $2,000 to retrieve it. "We can do more of the heavy lifting on the computer to take the burden off time-intensive molecular coding", he said. However, the promise of millions of gigabytes of data storage, extremely high reliability, and the fact that DNA isn't exactly going to become obsolete are definite pluses.

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