A pair of researchers from Columbia University and the New York Genome Center have successfully written data to DNA and retrieved it.

If that isn’t enough to impress you, the data written included a French film, an operating system, an Amazon gift card, a computer virus, a Pioneer plaque and a study penned by Claude Shannon.

According to the researchers, one gram of DNA could potentially house 215 Petabytes of data (or 1 000 TB).

One of the researchers, Yaniv Erlich detailed how he and Dina Zielinski managed to get this feat right in an interview with ResearchGate.

“We mapped the bits of the files to DNA nucleotides. Then, we synthesized these nucleotides and stored the molecules in a test-tube,” explained Erlich.

The team used something called “DNA Fountain” to pack the information into the DNA in the most optimal way possible. This method uses concepts from coding theory and creates a road map of sorts that is used to build the files back up again when being retrieved.

While the prospect of being able to walk around with your information safely stored in your thumb is exciting, Erlich says that we are still quite a distance from that future – more than a decade to be precise.

“We are still in early days, but it also took magnetic media years of research and development before it became useful,” he said.

The benefit of using DNA for data storage is simple; it lasts a long time. The researchers put forward that DNA can last for more than 100 years and humanity is unlikely to lose the ability to read the information DNA carries anytime soon.

[Image – CC BY 2.0 Caroline Davis2010]