Forget hard drives, DNA is the storage device of the future.

Marc Sanchez Aug 17, 2012

At the same time my brain can barely process this information, it can apparently TOTALLY process and store this information. And then some. In an effort to figure out how we’re going to manage all the “big data” that is being unearthed (and mined), researchers at Harvard have successfully coded an entire book into DNA. According to the Guardian, “53,000 words, 11 images, and a computer program” were successfully encoded and able to be recalled using our genetic makeup.

Chew on this quote from the Wall Street Journal: “‘A device the size of your thumb could store as much information as the whole Internet,’ said Harvard University molecular geneticist George Church, the project’s senior researcher.”

OK, get that? No? The Guardian has even more context:

Deoxyribonucleic acid or DNA – the chemical that stores genetic instructions in almost all known organisms – has an impressive data capacity. One gram can store up to 455bn gigabytes: the contents of more than 100bn DVDs, making it the ultimate in compact storage media.

In addition to vast amounts of storage, the researchers say that DNA is built to last, meaning it won’t become obsolete. No more trying to figure out how to run your floppy disk on the cloud or play your wax cylinder collection on iTunes.
To be clear, the researchers didn’t use living DNA for the tests. They say there would be too much room for error. Similar to the zeros and ones that power current technology, DNA uses the letters A, C, G, and T. The Guardian reports:

The fragments on the chip can later be “read” using standard techniques of the sort used to decipher the sequence of ancient DNA found in archeological material. A computer can then reassemble the original file in the right order using the address codes.

Even though the price for this kind of storage is dropping, it’s still prohibitive. Don’t expect to be copying your music library to DNA for a good 10 years.

There’s a lot happening in the world.  Through it all, Marketplace is here for you. 

You rely on Marketplace to break down the world’s events and tell you how it affects you in a fact-based, approachable way. We rely on your financial support to keep making that possible. 

Your donation today powers the independent journalism that you rely on. For just $5/month, you can help sustain Marketplace so we can keep reporting on the things that matter to you.