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Scientists Work Toward Storing Digital Information in Dna

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A gel image of the DNA of 96 horses.

Scientists are exploring the potential of custom-built DNA to serve as a long-term data storage medium.

Credit: Eric Risberg/AP

Scientists at Microsoft Research and elsewhere are exploring the potential of custom-built DNA as a long-term data storage solution.

DNA can last thousands of years, and its storage also requires very little room, which means the technology could enable all of the publicly accessible data on the Internet to be stored in a space the size of a shoebox.

Scientists are developing ways to translate the ones and zeroes through which digital information is transmitted into a four-letter code--but once the digital code is translated, the DNA strand must be built.

Twist Bioscience uses a machine to build the strings letter by letter, creating individual strings that carry fragments of information from digital files. Another machine can then read the sequence of DNA letters in each assembled string, but the technology needed for this process is extremely expensive and out of reach for most organizations.

Moreover, archivists are skeptical of storing important files in code that may not be able to be translated in the future. "It's a very interesting and promising approach to the storage problem, but the storage problem is really only a very small part of digital preservation," notes University of North Carolina professor Cal Lee. "If you just read the ones and zeroes, you don't know how to interpret it."

From Associated Press
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Abstracts Copyright © 2016 Information Inc., Bethesda, Maryland, USA


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