Jan 24 2013, 2:28pm CST | by Jeffrey B. Roth
It's unlikely that the Bard would have ever “dreamt of” having all 154 of his sonnets stored in tiny bits of DNA. But that's exactly what Ewan Birney and Nick Goldman, European Bioinformatics Institute scientists have done.
According to a press release Wednesday, the storage method developed by Goldman and Birney, was explained in an article published in the journal Nature. The process allows a minimum of 100 million hours of high-definition video to be stored in about one cup of DNA.
“There is a lot of digital information in the world – about three zettabytes’ worth (that’s 3000 billion billion bytes) – and the constant influx of new digital content poses a real challenge for archivists,” the scientists explained. “Hard disks are expensive and require a constant supply of electricity, while even the best ‘no-power’ archiving materials such as magnetic tape degrade within a decade. This is a growing problem in the life sciences, where massive volumes of data – including DNA sequences – make up the fabric of the scientific record.”
Goldman said it has been known for sometime that DNA is a “robust way to store information because we can extract it from wooly mammoth bones, which date back tens of thousands of years, and make sense of it. It’s also incredibly small, dense and does not need any power for storage, so shipping and keeping it is easy.”
The new method requires synthesizing DNA from the encoded information: enter Agilent Technologies, Inc, a California-based company that volunteered its services. Ewan and Nick sent them encoded versions of: an .mp3 of Martin Luther King’s speech, “I Have a Dream”; a .jpg photo of EMBL-EBI; a .pdf of Watson and Crick’s seminal paper, “Molecular structure of nucleic acids”; a .txt file of all of Shakespeare's sonnets; and a file that describes the encoding.
Jeffrey B. Roth
A multi-award winning writer, Jeffrey B. Roth is a well-known investigative reporter, who covers crime, law, politics, sciences, business, medicine, education, history and a wide range of other topics. In 2010, Roth won first place for a new series in the Keystone Press Awards, sponsored by the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association. A published short story writer and poet, Roth is listed in the Locus Index of Science Fiction and Fantasy Authors. Currently, Roth writes for CBS Philadelphia, CBS Baltimore, the Philadelphia Examiner and regional publications, including Carroll Magazine, Carroll Business Quarterly and Hagerstown Magazine to name a few. In the past, Roth, a former crisis intervention counselor and teacher, has written for numerous Pennsylvania newspapers, state and national magazines and the Associated Press. He lives in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, west of Gettysburg, Pa.
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