Scientists Have Figured Out How To Store Digital Images In DNA

Posted: Apr 11 2016, 1:02am CDT | by , Updated: Apr 11 2016, 9:24pm CDT, in News | Latest Science News


Scientists have Figured out How to Store Digital Images in DNA
All the movies, images, emails and other digital data can be stored in the faint pink smear of DNA at the end of this test tube. Credit: Tara Brown / University of Washington

University of Washington researchers have found a way to store and retrieve digital data in DNA molecules.

Will DNA now be used for storing data in place of memory cards? 

Researchers from University of Washington have developed a revolutionary technique where digital images can be stored in a tiny smear of DNA and retrieved perfectly when needed. 

DNA or deoxyribonucleic acid is a self-replicating material which is present in all the living organisms and carries genetic information like distinctive characteristics or features of somebody. But scientists have found that DNA molecules can store digital data millions of time more compactly than any other conventional technology.

In an experiment, researchers have been able to successfully encode four digital image files into strings of DNA. More significantly, they were able to reverse the process and managed to reconstruct the images without losing a single byte of information. The idea is if DNA can store genetic information it can store digital data too.

“Life has produced this fantastic molecule called DNA that efficiently stores all kinds of information about your genes and how a living system works – it’s very, very compact and very durable,” said co-author Luiz Ceze professor of computer science and engineering at UW.

“We’re essentially repurposing it to store digital data – pictures, videos, documents – in a manageable way for hundreds or thousands of years.”

The digital data all over the world is expected to hit 44 trillion gigabytes by 2020. That is 10 times more than what we had in 2013. So, we are in a desperate need of data storage that is faster and smaller than existing archival technologies like flash drives, hard drives and magnetic storage. All these storage systems can degrade after a few years or decades while DNA can preserve information for centuries and without any error.

For developing a DNA-based storage system, UW researchers are collaborating with Microsoft Researcher. This will require converting the 1s and 0s of files into four basic elements of DNA - adenine, guanine, cytosine, and thymine. If a smart approach is utilized, DNA can store information many millions of times more densely than current technologies. 

The next thing will be how to identify and retrieve the correct sequences from this large pool of random DNA molecules. Researchers will encode the zip codes and street addresses into the DNA sequences. Using Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) techniques, people could easily identify and access the zip code they are looking for and will successfully store all the pictures, movies, emails and financial transactions in the future.

“This is an example where we’re borrowing something from nature - DNA - to store information. But we’re using something we know from computers - how to correct memory errors - and applying that back to nature,” said Ceze.

“This multidisciplinary approach is what makes this project existing. We are drawing from a diverse set of disciplines to push the boundaries of what can be done with DNA. And, as a result, creating a storage system with unprecedented density and durability.”

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The Author

Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.




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