New Scientist marvels at the ability of DNA to store information, with a realization that glassed-in genes could safely store information for millennia:
Just 1 gram of DNA is theoretically capable of holding 455 exabytes – enough for all the data held by Google, Facebook and every other major tech company, with room to spare. It’s also incredibly durable: DNA has been extracted and sequenced from 700,000-year-old horse bones. But conditions have to be right for it to last.
“We know that if you just store it lying around, you lose information,” says Robert Grass of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich. So he and colleagues are working on ways to increase DNA’s longevity, with the aim of storing data for thousands or millions of years.
They began by looking at the way information is encoded on a DNA strand. The simplest method treats the DNA bases A and C as a “0” and G and T as a “1”. Of course, any damage to the DNA leaves holes in the data, so the team used an error-correcting technique called a Reed-Solomon code. This includes redundant blocks that can be used to reconstruct garbled bits of data.
They also tried to mimic the way fossils keep a DNA sequence intact. Excluding all water from the environment was key, so they encapsulated the DNA in microscopic spheres of glass.
Early tests – which involved encoding ancient manuscripts and then baking them – indicate the technique could save messages for between 2,000 and 2 million years, depending on how cold it was.
Ultimately, they want to store everything humans know. Everything on every website, in every book, and all the movies.