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January 24, 2013

DNA Method used to store Information

By Shankar Pandiath, TMCnet Contributor

Scientists in the UK have developed a unique method of storing information using DNA, the basic molecule found in every living creature that contains our genetic instructions.

The new method, discussed in the latest journal Nature, is extremely expensive right now, but eventually it could be used to store digital files without electricity for over thousands of years.

"We've created a code that's error tolerant using a molecular form we know will last in the right conditions for 10,000 years, or possibly longer, said Nick Goldman, a geneticist at the European Bioinformatics Institute at the Wellcome Trust Genome Campus in U.K. "As long as someone knows what the code is, you will be able to decipher it if you have a machine that can read DNA."

The team has even this used the method to encode Shakespeare's sonnets on to the synthetic DNA strands. As DNA storage would be small, one of Shakespeare’s sonnets would weigh about 0.3 picograms, said Goldman. “A gram of DNA would hold the same information as a bit over a million compact discs, something smaller than your little finger,” Goldman added.

"I've gone from being a skeptic to a believer," said David Haussler, a geneticist and computer scientist at the University of California, Santa Cruz, who was not involved in the study.

Researchers are currently using a synthesized DNA molecule and not a DNA from a living organism.

"We’re using synthesized DNA here as the molecule of storage, which is the same molecule that is also used in our bodies," said Ewan Birney, senior author of the study and geneticist at the United Kingdom's European Bioinformatics Institute.

The current technologies used to store, read and write digital data become obsolete very fast, in addition to taking up space. They also need to be rewritten every few years to prevent degradation. And because DNA is the script of life, human beings will continuously be pushing for ways to improve the reading and writing of DNA, Haussler told LiveScience in the Genetics by the Numbers: 10 Tantalizing Tales.

Although study collaborators at Agilent (News - Alert) Technologies provided the DNA synthesis free of charge for the Nature paper, commercial rates for DNA synthesis could cost anywhere between $10,000 and $30,000, researchers said.

The technique, researchers said, could even encode a zettabyte’s worth of data. That's enough to encompass the total amount of digital information that currently exists on our planet, which would be "breathtakingly expensive" right now, Birney said.

Edited by Ashley Caputo
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