In these last months DNA-related research seems to have grabbed its fair share of attention, and there’s a reason for that. After having it sequenced and made a few experiments in cloning, we have now figured out other creative uses using DNA. First of all, we have extensive data storage.
The news of having found a way to embed data in a tiny strand of DNA preserved in glass and preserving them for millions of years or so was announced weeks ago by Science Alert, and it’s less surprising than it might seem. After all, DNA is one of the most durable things existing in nature and, Jurassic Park apart, we have been able to correctly sequence the genome of a 700,000 year old horse. From there, to actually choose by ourselves which data to insert in DNA to store them (almost) forever, the step is a simple one.
“We are starting to reach fundamental limits of how densely we can store data on microchips. We need new ideas. Given that Kosuri is a biologist, his idea is DNA. It’s information, he said. Our bodies use it to code for life, but it could be anything. DNA comes in strings of “A”s, “C”s, “T”s, and “G”s; digital files—including music files—are strings of ones and zeros. Translating one code into the other is, for people like Kosuri, relatively straightforward. In 2012, Kosuri converted a book into DNA.” (Andrew Marantz on The New Yorker, quoting Sri Kosuri, UCLA biochemist, 24 November 2014)
This is extremely interesting, and not just for durability, but also because of the space you’re going to get: 1 gr. of DNA holds 455 exabytes (= 1 billion gigabytes). You can upload whatever you want. Yes, even music, as the OK Go pop-rock band is currently doing. While costs are still prohibitive (in the experiment related by Science Alert, researchers had to spend US$1,500 to encode 83 kilobytes) we can expect them to go down in the foreseeable future.
“It was clear that the lab wanted to work on encoding bigger data sets. It’s arbitrary as an artistic gesture, but the scientists are actually figuring out a lot of actual cryptography and biology, so it’s win-win.” (Damian Kulash, OK Go, 15 January 2015)
And as far as DNA is concerned, things might get even more exciting. Another experiment has recently shown that implanting mice with human DNA in their brain cells make them more intelligent than their non-hybrid peers, with marked improvements in their neural networks. Let alone being a Sci-Fi scenario, this opens up a new field in the treatment of degenerative diseases, ex. Alzheimer’s.