What’s your perspective on the future of storage devices? Better hard drives or maybe some state-of-the-art USB flash drives? None of the above it would seem according to a team of researchers from the Columbia University. Recently, a team from the said University was successful in storing 214 petabytes worth of computer information on DNA molecules using a novel DNA manipulation technique and an advanced computer algorithm.
The events leading to the creation of the first biological storage device started last year when Microsoft commissioned over 10 million DNA strands from a company called Twist Bioscience. The perspective of blending biology with technology draw the attention of many US-based research centers including the University of Washington.
However, the breakthrough was made possible thanks to the relentless efforts of Dina Zielinski and Yaniv Erlich from the New York Genome Center and the Columbia University. Using the DNA strands commissioned by Microsoft, the scientific pair managed to store and retrieve six computer files.
After careful consideration, the scientists chose the files that would be stored on the DNA strands. According to the paper, which was published in the journal Science, six computer files were chosen for their cultural significance:
- A study published in 1948 by Claude Shannon, an information theorist.
- One innocuous computer virus.
- An Amazon gift card worth $50.
- An entire operating system (Microsoft’s Windows most likely).
- A French movie from 1895 called The Arrival of the Train at La Ciotat.
- A Pioneer commemorative plaque.
Quite a selection, isn’t it? Now, the first step of the process was to compress the six files in order to create a master file. The researchers used a compression technique called DNA fountain to make the master file. After that, the master file was split into binary code.
Using a computer algorithm called the fountain code, the binary strings were stored inside droplets which were then mapped to the DNA’s four nucleotide bases. The researchers also added a barcode system, to make sure that the information can be retrieved with any loss.
For the purpose of this experiment, over 70,000 DNA strands were used. After this stage of the experiment was over, the scientists sent the altered DNA strands back to Twist Bioscience, which decoded and retrieved the information.
The experiment has been deemed a success, taking into account that no data was lost during the transfer and retrieval processes. In potentia, a single gram of DNA can store approximately one billion terabytes of computer information for at least a millennium if kept in a cool place.
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