Scientists have stored audio and text on fragments of DNA and then retrieved them with near-perfect fidelity—a technique that eventually may provide a way to handle the overwhelming data of the digital age.
The scientists encoded in DNA—the recipe of life—an audio clip of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech, a photograph, a copy of Francis Crick and James Watson's famous "double helix" scientific paper on DNA from 1953 and Shakespeare's 154 sonnets. They later were able to retrieve them with 99.99% accuracy.
The experiment was reported Wednesday in the journal Nature.
"All we're doing is adapting what nature has hit upon—a very good way of storing information," said Nick Goldman, a computational biologist at the European Bioinformatics Institute in Hinxton, England, and lead author of the Nature paper.
Companies, governments and universities face an enormous challenge storing the ever-growing flood of digitized information, the videos, books, movies and songs sent over the Internet.
Some experts have looked for answers in biology. In recent years, they have found ways to encode trademarks in cells and poetry in bacteria, as well as store snippets of music in the genetic code of micro-organisms. But these biological things eventually die.
By contrast, DNA—the molecule that contains the genetic instructions for all living things—is stable, durable and dense. Because DNA isn't alive, it could sit passively in a storage device for thousands of years.