DNA Data Storage Is Robust, Scalable

For the first time, scientists believe that they have developed a robust system for encoding information into DNA, and then reading it back with 100% accuracy.

Digital production, transmission and storage have revolutionized how we access and use information but have also made archiving an increasingly complex task that requires active, continuing maintenance of digital media. This challenge has focused some interest on DNA as an attractive target for information storage1 because of its capacity for high-density information encoding, longevity under easily achieved conditions and proven track record as an information bearer.

Previous DNA-based information storage approaches have encoded only trivial amounts of information or were not amenable to scaling-up, and used no robust error-correction and lacked examination of their cost-efficiency for large-scale information archival. Here we describe a scalable method that can reliably store more information than has been handled before. We encoded computer files totalling 739 kilobytes of hard-disk storage and with an estimated Shannon information of 5.2  106 bits into a DNA code, synthesized this DNA, sequenced it and reconstructed the original files with 100% accuracy.

Theoretical analysis indicates that our DNA-based storage scheme could be scaled far beyond current global information volumes and offers a realistic technology for large-scale, long-term and infrequently accessed digital archiving. In fact, current trends in technological advances are reducing DNA synthesis costs at a pace that should make our scheme cost-effective for sub-50-year archiving within a decade.

The first time I read about this idea was in an excellent series of fantasy novels by Barbara Hambly. In her 1982 Darwath trilogy, she writes about how wizards of several thousand years ago succeeded in tying information to the DNA of selected individuals.

In the story, several people from 1980's California find themselves transported across the Void to another planet and the Realm of Darwath. They face a deadly species of queerly magical beings - the Dark - who destroyed civilization thousands of years ago. Everything that was made of paper (like books and records) were burned to stave off attacks by the Dark.

Tying memories to a few suitable bloodlines was the only way to preserve a record of that period that would endure.

Update 15-Apr-2017: See the Heritable Memories Bloodline from The Time of the Dark (1982) by Barbara Hambly. End update.

From Towards practical, high-capacity, low-maintenance information storage in synthesized DNA (Nature) via Discover.

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