Timon Singh

Harvard Stores 70 Billion Books in Record Breaking DNA Bio-Library the Size of a Thumbnail

by , 08/25/12
filed under: green technology, News

Harvard University's Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering , George Church, Regenesis, DNA storage, storage medium, DNA, genetics, bio-library, storage spaceDNA photo from Shutterstock

A team from Harvard University’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering has discovered a way to store 70 billion books in a space the size of your thumbnail! Using next-generation sequencing technology, the team managed to encode the library in DNA, shattering the record for DNA data by a factor of 1,000. Harvard geneticist George Church picked his own forthcoming book, Regenesis, as a test subject and stored it 70 billion times.

Harvard University's Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering , George Church, Regenesis, DNA storage, storage medium, DNA, genetics, bio-library, storage spaceLibrary photo from Shutterstock

Church, a founding core faculty member of the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University and the Robert Winthrop Professor of Genetics at Harvard Medical School, recently wrote the book, Regenesis: How Synthetic Biology Will Reinvent Nature and Ourselves in DNA. Thinking it would make the perfect test subject, he and his team decoded and copied it in the form of DNA.

Scientists have long thought that DNA could make an excellent storage medium, as it is “fantastically dense, stable, energy-efficient and proven to work over a timespan of some 3.5 billion years”. While Church’s team is not the first to demonstrate the potential of DNA storage, they utilized next-generation sequencing technology in order to encode a massive amount of data.

The team’s findings still and were published in the Aug. 17 issue of the journal Science. In it they stated that they used binary code to preserve the text, images and formatting of the book. While the scale is roughly what a 5 1/4-inch floppy disk once held, the density of the bits is off the charts – an impressive: 5.5 petabits, or 1 million gigabits, per cubic millimeter.

“The information density and scale compare favorably with other experimental storage methods from biology and physics,” said Sriram Kosuri, a senior scientist at the Wyss Institute and senior author on the paper. He also praised the benefits of DNA saying “you can drop it wherever you want, in the desert or your backyard, and it will be there 400,000 years later.”

“Imagine that you had really cheap video recorders everywhere,” Church said. “Just paint walls with video recorders. And for the most part they just record and no one ever goes to them. But if something really good or really bad happens you want to go and scrape the wall and see what you got. So something that’s molecular is so much more energy efficient and compact that you can consider applications that were impossible before.”

In theory, four grams of DNA could store all of the digital data humankind creates in one year. That would definitely save on storage space.

+ Harvard University’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering

Via Computer World

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2 Comments

  1. bthinker bthinker August 25, 2012 at 12:40 pm

    That’s awesome.

  2. GreatEmerald August 21, 2012 at 3:50 pm

    Well, that would be a good alternative to DVDs.

    Also, interesting how DNAs work in a quaternary numerical system, and use a byte size of three quats, as opposed to current computers which use a binary numerical system and a byte size of 8 bits. So, DNA bytes (triplets) can store 4^3=64 values, while current computer bytes (octets) store 2^8=256 values.

    Transcoding a binary octet stream to a quaternary triplet stream probably takes a bit of time. Although I suppose that for storage purposes, a quaternary quartet stream could do as well, and be a bit faster.

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