Science 3 min read

Researchers Successfully Store Data in Living Bacteria's DNA

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The idea of storing data in DNA is not new.

It begins with researchers converting a data file — represented by binary numbers — into a combination of the molecule‘s four bases. These include adenine, guanine, cytosine, and thymine.

After that, they can write that code into DNA using a DNA synthesizer.

Unfortunately, that’s not nearly as simple as it sounds. That’s because the DNA synthesis’s accuracy decreases as the code gets longer. As a workaround, researchers usually have to break their files down into chunks.

Then, they would write those chunks into snippets of DNA between 200 and 300 bases long. DNA sequencers could eventually reassemble the snippets again to access the data.

As you can imagine, the technology is quite expensive.

For example, it could cost as much as $3,500 to synthesize one megabit of information. Moreover, the vials of DNA in which the researchers stored data can still degrade over time.

A team led by Harris Wang of Colombia University devised a way to tackle this issue.

In their published paper in the journal Nature, the team wrote:

“This work establishes a direct digital-to-biological data storage framework and advances our capacity for information exchange between silicon- and carbon-based entities.”

Here’s the breakdown of the study.

Storing Data in the DNA of Living Bacteria

Wang and his team figured out a way to use the same method with living organisms. That way, the data can last much longer. Also, organisms can pass it down to their offspring.

Using CRISPR, the team managed to electrically encode 72 bits of data to write the words “Hello world!” into a population of bacterial cells.

There are several benefits to using the DNA as data storage.

For one, it’s over a thousand times as dense as the most compact hard drives. As a result, the DNA can store an equivalent of 10-full length movies within the volume of a single grain of salt.

Besides, DNA is central to biology. So, the technology to read and write data on it should become more accessible and powerful.

With that said, we’re still a long way from storing data in the DNA of living cells.

As impressive as the feat may seem, 72 bits is not a lot of data. As such, it’s unlikely that we’ll be storing and retrieving data from living cells in the next couple of years.

We’re not going to compete with the current memory storage systems,” Wang said.

Read More: Harnessing Class 1 CRISPR Systems to Improve Human Gene Editing

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Sumbo Bello is a creative writer who enjoys creating data-driven content for news sites. In his spare time, he plays basketball and listens to Coldplay.

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