Published: Mon, March 06, 2017
Science | By Kerry Wheeler

Columbia University Researchers Store Computer Information on DNA Strand

Columbia University Researchers Store Computer Information on DNA Strand

NY scientists were able to successfully store, replicate and retrieve multiple digital files using DNA, as if it were like a real computer hard drive. Moreover, the researchers encoded an operating system and movie and were able to successfully retrieve the data from sequenced DNA without any errors. Study coauthors Yaniv Erlich and Dina Zielinski were able to fit the theoretical maximum amount of information per nucleotide using a new method inspired by how movies stream across the internet.

To make use of all this data, it needs to be stored somewhere, and DNA may be up for the task. Ever since DNA was first discovered in the 1950s by James Watson and Francis Crick, scientists quickly realized huge quantities of data could be stored at high density in only a few molecules. They started with six files, including a full computer operating system, a computer virus, an 1895 French film called Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat, and a 1948 study by information theorist Claude Shannon. The potential power from such biological-technological interfaces is considerable: a device that uses DNA molecules can grow more of itself to perform many calculations simultaneously, potentially without limit.

According to their researcher paper, published last week in Science Magazine, researchers took these six files and compressed them in an archive.

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Geneticists have concluded that DNA is the "device" that has the most information. Put simply, your computer hard drive's days are numbered.

They then used an algorithm called fountain code [1, 2] to randomly package binary data strings into "droplets", and then map the binary code of each droplet to the four DNA nucleotides.

When you thought that blue-rays and memory sticks are going to be the most efficient storing environment you're going to use, a team of researchers from the Columbia University proved that biology beats technology in matters of love and, not to mention, information storage. But Erlich took a cue from the entertainment section of the newspaper in developing DNA Fountain. "For obvious reasons, we removed the Amazon gift card". Two weeks later, Erlich received a vial containing DNA which encoded all of his previous work. To this end, the scientists added a barcode-style system for quick access to the information stored on the DNA strands and used DNA sequencing in order to retrieve all data stored biologically. Among them, the most important limitations are the speed and cost. In tests the new algorithm enabled encoding of data into DNA strands at a density of 215 petabytes (215 million gigabytes) per single gram of DNA. "I would guess more than a decade", he said. The way in which the new technique can overcome errors "suggests that we could use much lower-quality synthesis and still perfectly decode a file", he says. For instance, the researchers spent $7,000 to synthesize the DNA they used to record their data and another $2,000 to read it.

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