DNA for data storage


36 Responses to “DNA for data storage”

  1. Jason Baker says:

    So when this technology inevitably makes it into living cells, and mutations occur, will the new versions be considered derivative works?

    • Boundegar says:

      This technology is already present in living cells, in fact the DNA inside a single cell can store the genome of an entire cell.

      • Jason Baker says:

        …I thought it was pretty clear “this technology” referred to computer files encoded in synthetic DNA, but I’ll still laugh a little.

  2. Gary Fouty says:

    I still recall a conjecture by Isaac Asimov that if some alien visitor to earth  a million years ago wanted to send a message to the future earth, the best way would be to encode it in DNA of some organism.   Certainly hard to think of anything else likely to last as well, though one might think mutations could spoil the message over time.

  3. lysdexia says:

    I wonder if cosmic rays could have ill effects? 

    “Okay! Let’s look at grandma’s wedding pictOHMYGOD THE KRAKEN!”

    • technogeekagain says:

       Ill effects? Yes… but that’s why error-correcting codes are used. (Just as they are for other forms of data storage which are either at high risk or carry critical information.

      (Back in the day, some mainframes used to spend up to a third of their hardware continuously checking the other two-thirds, correcting errors where possible, and ensuring that they were reported in a way that let them be easily corrected even when the error was intermittent. These days, you folks won’t even deign to pay for parity bits … yes, memory is more reliable than it was, but a lot of this is that MS has convinced you that machines are supposed to malfunction.)

  4. Shay Guy says:

    Watson and Crick’s paper on DNA’s structure, a photo of the EBI, and an explanation of their data conversion technique

    Yo dawg, I heard you like DNA…

  5. Lemoutan says:

    Here’s hoping that the unpacked encoding of Hamlet generates an infinite number of monkeys.

  6. You have a copy-paste typographical error there: amount of information should be 5.2 × 10^6

  7. anansi133 says:

    Time capsules could take on a whole new meaning.

  8. technogeekagain says:

    I’m chuckling at the random pile of data used in the experiment. “Let’s see, what do we have on hand that’s amusing and adds up to enough bits to be interesting?”

  9. Edward says:

    That is so sci-fi in real life.

  10. feetleet says:

    Now that we know this CAN be done, maybe it’s worth taking a step back and ‘reading’ our OWN dna as non-biological ‘text,’ looking for indicia of language or symbology.

    Not looking for ‘God,’ necessarily. Instead, imagine we’re the product of some kind of deliberate panspermia, with Arecibo-style blueprints for something like faster-than-light travel or a Dyson sphere CONTAINED in us.   

    If the Earth was going to end, and humans wanted to let a new world have a crack at it, but hadn’t yet mastered space travel, we could use life itself as a time capsule containing all human knowledge. Encode a bunch of tardigrades with everything from Shakespeare to the Manhattan project, then ‘hitchhike’ a few thousand on the backs of every near-passing comet.

    Or let’s say you’re a Type II or III Kardashev-scale civilization from Alpha Centauri, and you discover, conclusively, that FTL is impossible. The most efficient way to ‘colonize’ a galaxy, then, might be to send self-unpacking life spinning off on comets/meteoresquerie to all the closest goldilocks zones.

    The ‘data’ encoded in the life could be as simple as a star coordinate, so us ‘colonists’ would know where to phone home, or where to look for instructions. This would have the additional benefit of halving communication delays (the same reason robotic probes are advanced as a possibility for interstellar comm).

    It’s at least arguable that the self-preserving nature of dna leads INEXORABLY to natural selection, and so, to sentience. But the raison d’etre of dna itself is opaque. Just like a virus, dna has no natural REASON to exist other than its own self-replication, but that still begs the question. Maybe the seeming arbitrariness and unlikelihood of a rock pocked with volcanoes birthing humans is MEANT to attract our attention. Not as proof of God’s love, but as the volcanic glass that “has no earthly business in a Maine hayfield.” Maybe it’s our Macguffin.

    Now, the DNA ‘data’ would have to stick with the organisms through thick and thin, all the way from tardigrades up to homo sapiens. But wouldn’t you know it – we have that!!!!!!!!

    MITOCHONDRIAL DNA – still kicking around in humans and eukaryotes alike – is as old as life on Earth.

    I’ll give you a moment to catch your breath…..it gets even better….

    It has been suggested that Mitochondrial DNA is the cause of (and so, related to the cure for) AGING.


    I expect a first draft on my desk by Friday.

  11. Conan Librarian says:

    And you can bet somebody at the MPAA is drafting a bill against DNA copyright information, even as we speak. 

  12. dr says:

    So I have to re-buy my whole music collection again in yet another format? 

  13. Joe Gilbert says:

    I bet if we used this technique to decode the human genome we would find a note from God saying “Drink your Ovaltine”

  14. unclegabby says:

    Doesn’t DNA decay fairly quickly once outside a living organism?

  15. Antinous / Moderator says:

    So if we take the encoded speech and turn it into a living being, do we get Natasha Henstridge?

  16. daemonsquire says:

    This reminds me of a Christian Bök project.

  17. Sarge Misfit says:

    That’s only one strand, though. There’s room for another couple of dozen or so …

    Igor! Igor! Fire up ze dyno-mometer!!

  18. pa says:

    Wait ’till the first computer viruses appear. You’ll get a cold from them!

  19. Deidzoeb says:

    The remakes of Cutthroat Island, Waterworld, and 25% of all pirate movies will be much improved by having the treasure map encoded in DNA, instead of [SPOILERS] tattooed on somebody’s back.

  20. DreamboatSkanky says:


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