Scientists have successfully stored a computer operating system, a short movie along with other data in DNA, an advance that may usher the next generation of ultra-compact, biological storage devices which will last hundreds of thousands of years.

In a new study, researchers from Columbia University and the New York Genome Centre (NYGC) in the US showed that an algorithm designed for streaming video on a cellphone can unlock DNAs nearly full storage potential by squeezing more information into its four base nucleotides.

A Scientist transfers DNA content from one vial to the next | Source: Reuters 

 

They also showed that the technology is extremely reliable.

DNA is an ideal storage medium because it is ultra-compact and can last hundreds of thousands of years if kept in a cool, dry place, as demonstrated by the recent recovery of DNA from the bones of a 430,000-year-old human ancestor found in a cave in Spain.

"DNA wont degrade over time like cassette tapes and CDs, and it wont become obsolete - if it does, we have bigger problems," said Yaniv Erlich from Columbia University.

Researchers chose six files to encode, or write, into DNA: a full computer operating system, an 1895 French film, "Arrival of a train at La Ciotat," a 50 USD Amazon gift card, a computer virus, a Pioneer plaque and a 1948 study by information theorist Claude Shannon.

They compressed the files into a master file, and then split the data into short strings of binary code made up of ones and zeros.

Using an erasure-correcting algorithm called fountain codes, they randomly packaged the strings into so-called droplets, and mapped the ones and zeros in each droplet to the four nucleotide bases in DNA: A, G, C and T.

A model of human DNA | Source: Reuters (Representational Image) 

 

The algorithm deleted letter combinations known to create errors and added a barcode to each droplet to help reassemble the files later.

The researchers showed that their coding strategy packs 215 petabytes of data on a single gram of DNA, which according to Erlich was the highest-density data-storage device ever created.

"We believe this is the highest-density data-storage device ever created," said Erlich.

The study was published in the journal Science.

Feature Image Source: Reuters