DNA to be used to store digital data for future

Researchers exploring ways to preserve the digital data with DNA for future generations

Computer hard drives lack durability hence scientists are turning to DNA to store the digital information as well as preserve the knowledge for posterity.

In the present digital age, we are used to storing all our essential data in the sophisticated hard drives of computer. However, there are some limitations to the hard drives, the very first being lack of durability, next they require more space and the last is the data stored runs the risk of wear out in just few decades. 

As a method to overcome these shortcomings, researchers are now turning to DNA and exploring ways to not only store the digital data but also preserve it for future generations.

Digital Data technology is turning to DNA for storing and preserving valuable information:

Scientists from ETH Zurich conducted a study to check the archival potential of DNA and it was revealed that even after about 2000 years the information stored in DNA was absolutely error free! Based on the study it is now clear that DNA can be used to store the essential digital data and it can even preserve the error free data for thousands of years.

Researchers say that the data stored and preserved in DNA gets encoded in strands of DNA floating in a drop of liquid and hence next goal of researchers is to explore ways of searching specific information which has been encoded in DNA.

Dr Robert Grass, from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology and also leading the research team said:  “If you go back to medieval times in Europe, we had monks writing in books to transmit information for the future, and some of those books still exist.”

“Now, we save information on hard drives, which wear out in a few decades.”

Dr Grass added that just like computers use binary codes a DNA too has its “language”. In case of computer hard drives 0s and 1s represent the data whereas the DNA code is based on sequence of four chemical nucleotides which are known as A,C,T and G.

The major advantage of DNA is that besides being more durable it can store more information in smaller space when compared to the computer hard drives.

Theoretically speaking, a fraction of an ounce of DNA is able to store more than 300,000 terabytes of data says Dr Grass.

Archaeological findings have also revealed that it is possible to sequence the DNA which dates back hundreds of thousands of years.

The research team led by Dr Grass was able to encode DNA with 83 kilobytes of text from the 1921 Swiss Federal Charter, and in addition also a copy of Archimedes’ famous work The Method dating from the 10th Century.

During the study, researchers encapsulated DNA in silica spheres and then warmed it to nearly 71 C for seven days which is equivalent of keeping it for 2000 years at 10 C. Surprisingly, when the information was decoded it was found to be error-free.

Thus, researchers have successfully demonstrated the method to preserve DNA synthetically for long longer periods of time. Now, they are focused on their next challenge and that is exploring methods to label specific pieces of information on DNA strands to make them searchable.

Dr Grass says: “In DNA storage, you have a drop of liquid containing floating molecules encoded with information.”

“Right now, we can read everything that’s in that drop. But I can’t point to a specific place within the drop and read only one file,” he added.

According to Dr Grass, a single droplet of DNA could be used to store and preserve a enormous chunk of historical texts, government documents or even entire archives of private firms.

“This interest in preserving information is something we have lost, especially in a digital world,” he says. “And that’s what I’d like to help address and encourage people to do: Save information we have today for future times.”

Major limitation for wide scale use of DNA hard drives: 

The only limitation to use DNA storage on a wide scale is its prohibitive cost. According to researchers, though DNA storage is durable, consumes lesser space and can preserve error free data, the total cost involved in encoding and saving a few megabytes of data involves “thousands of dollars” in the current scenario.

Hence, researchers believe that due to the cost factor it does not seem that personal DNA hard drives would reach common consumers any time soon.

Digital Dark Age: 

At the same time, Vint Cert an internet pioneer has warned of a “Digital Dark Age” which represents a situation where it will be difficult or even impossible to read electronic documents and multimedia as they have been recorded in an obsolete and obscure file format.

While addressing the American Association for the Advancement of Science in February, Cert said: “We are nonchalantly throwing all of our data into what could become an information black hole without realizing it.”

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