Man-made DNA can now store data for millions of years

Swiss scientists have discovered encasing DNA in glass and chilling it down can preserve data encoded in it for millions of years, moving them closer to an entirely new, and better, way to store the world’s information.

Researchers first turned data into DNA and then retrieved it two years ago, but it degraded too quickly to be useful as a long-term storage device. But nature already had a solution.

Chill DNA down and fossilize it, and it can last for millions of years. When scientists discovered a woolly mammoth in Siberia in 2013, they were ecstatic to find the region’s icy conditions had left the 40,000-year-old fossil so well-preserved that they were able to extract long strands of DNA that gave them hope that they could someday clone the extinct beast.

The team at ETH Zurich couldn’t exactly wait thousands of years for natural fossilization to occur, but they achieved a similar effect by encasing strands of DNA in glass. Store the glass pods at around 50 degrees Fahrenheit and accurate data could still be extracted up to 2,000 years later. At 0 degrees, it can survive 2 million years, according to New Scientist.

Scientists create data-encoded DNA by taking advantage of its innate coding language. DNA is made up of four chemicals — commonly known as A, C, G and T, that can be converted into the 1s and 0s we are already accustomed to using for data storage. As Quartz noted, it’s an incredibly efficient system:

One gram of DNA can potentially hold up to 455 exabytes of data, according to the New Scientist. For reference: There are one billion gigabytes in an exabyte, and 1,000 exabytes in a zettabyte. The cloud computing company EMC estimated that there were 1.8 zettabytes of data in the world in 2011, which means we would need only about 4 grams (about a teaspoon) of DNA to hold everything from Plato through the complete works of Shakespeare to Beyonce’s latest album (not to mention every brunch photo ever posted on Instagram).

It’s still cheaper to produce hard drives than DNA data pools, so you can keep showing off your 1 TB flash drive. But DNA data storage could someday have a profound effect on how we pass down our archives from one generation to the next.

Big data and DNA: What business can learn from junk genes

The effort to dig out the data in our genomes has led to a rash of discoveries announced Wednesday, but amid the scientific insights are cultural ones that speak to how companies will have to learn to collaborate around big data and manage it.

Moby Dick on a DNA strand: Harvard encodes data in life’s language

Wyss Institute researchers have broken all previous records for DNA storage, encoding 700 terabytes of data into a gram of DNA. Why DNA storage? It’s incredibly dense and resilient, but it’s not fast (at least not yet), which would make it most useful for archival storage.

How big data helps map people, places and time

Online genealogy service is trying to become like the Amazon or Netflix of family trees. Much like those companies use customer data to recommend products or movies customers might like, is using machine learning to make learning about ancestors a lot less work.

Preventing counterfeits with an iPhone and digital DNA

Applied DNA Sciences thinks it has created the perfect tool for identifying attempts to counterfeit or steal goods along the supply chain. It’s mobile meets cloud computing meets big data, and it begins with QR codes that mimic physical DNA signatures.

Will Technology Cure Health Care — Or Kill It?

Obama says technology will save health care, and it’s true that IT is quickly becoming a medical resource: Google, which recently launched an online medical records service, claims that online search is where consumers turn first for health information. Computerization can eliminate much of the 30 percent of medical costs that are due to inefficiency, according to Dr. Dean Ornish, founder of the nonprofit Preventive Medicine Research Institute. And advanced diagnostics will encourage prevention and reduce costly reactive treatment.
Two weeks ago, a small green box showed up in my mail. Inside was a “spit kit” my wife had ordered me from DNA sequencing startup 23andme. Within a few minutes, I’d completed and returned the sample. In a few weeks, I’ll be able to analyze my DNA online. What if I find something I don’t like?
Thanks to technology, such diagnostics are now within the reach of consumers. As more people test themselves, doctors and insurers may face the additional burden of just-in-case surgery and a “previvor” mentality. So, will technology cure health care, or kill it?
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