DNA can store the information from a million CDs in a space no bigger than your little finger and could keep it safe for centuries. Sriram Kosuri, a Harvard researcher said there are advantages of DNA for long-term storage, but because of its technical limitations, "it's not going to replace your hard drive".
Researchers reported yesterday that they had stored all 154 Shakespeare sonnets, a photo, a scientific paper, and a 26-second sound clip from US civil rights leader Martin Luther King jr's "I Have a Dream" speech. That all fit in a barely visible bit of DNA in a test tube.
Some scientists are saying the genetic material could help handle the growing storage needs of today's information society. DNA has long held all the information needed to make plants and animals.
The process involved is converting the binary code of ones and zeroes of digital information into the four-letter alphabet of DNA code.
That code was used to create strands of synthetic DNA. Then the DNA was fed to machines that "read" molecules and recovered the encoded information.
Ewan Birney of the European Bioinformatics Institute in Hinxton, England said that reading process took two weeks. Yet technological advances are driving that time down, he said. Ewan Birney is an author of a report published online by the journal Nature.
Storing the DNA would be relatively simple, researchers said: Just put it in a cold, dry and dark place and leave it alone.
National historical records or huge library holdings are just some of the fields where the technology might work in the near term, because we are talking about large archives that have to be kept safe for centuries, said study co-author Nick Goldman of the institute.