Can DNA Help Us Store Data for 1,000 Years?
Sunday October 16, 2022. 04:34 PM , from Slashdot
'You know you're a nerd when you store DNA in your fridge,' says Dina Zielinski, a senior scientist in human genomics at the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research tells the BBC — holding up a tiny vial with a light film at the bottom:
But this DNA is special. It does not store the code from a human genome, nor does it come from any animal or virus. Instead, it stores a digital representation of a museum. 'That will last easily tens of years, maybe hundreds,' says Zielinski.
Research into how we could store digital data inside strands of DNA has exploded over the past decade, in the wake of efforts to sequence the human genome, synthesise DNA and develop gene therapies. Scientists have already encoded films, books and computer operating systems into DNA. Netflix has even used it to store an episode of its 2020 thriller series Biohackers.
The information stored in DNA defines what it is to be human (or any other species for that matter). But many experts argue it offers an incredibly compact, durable and long-lasting form of storage that could replace the many forms of unreliable digital media available, which regularly become defunct and require huge amounts of energy to store. Meanwhile, some researchers are exploring other ways we could store data effectively forever, such as etching information onto incredibly durable glass beads, a modern take on cave drawings.
Even before the issue of the energy required to power (and cool) data centers, Zielinski points out that data stored on hard drives 'lasts on average maybe 10 to 20 years, maybe 50 if you're lucky and the conditions are perfect.' And yet we've already been able to recover DNA from million-year-old wooly mammoths...
Olgica Milenkovic, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, acknowledges that DNA can be damaged by things like humidity, acids, and radiation — 'But if it's kept cold and dry, it's good for hundreds of years.' And if it's stored in an ice vault, 'it can last forever, pretty much.' (And unlike floppy disks — DNA-formatted data will never become obsolete.)
It's not the only option. Peter Kazansky, a professor in optoelectronics at the University of Southampton, has created an optical storage technology that etches nano-structures onto glass disks. But Latchesar Ionkov, a computer scientist working on DNA storage at Los Alamos National Laboratory, believes we're just decades away from being able to store the estimated 33 zettabytes of data that humans will have produced by 2025 in a space the size of a ping-pong ball.
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