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Scientists Using DNA to Store Digital Photos for Centuries

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dnaphoto

Memory card full? Just pull out some DNA storage and keep shooting. Scientists have figured out how to store digital photos in DNA and then perfectly retrieve them afterward.

The new technique was developed by a team of researchers at the University of Washington and Microsoft. Their complete system allows digital data to be encoded, stored, and retrieved using DNA molecules, which can hold data millions of time more efficiently than current archival technologies.

How efficiently? Get this: 10,000 gigs of data — equivalent to the full backups of 600 basic smartphones — can be stored in a tiny smear of DNA nestled at the bottom of a test tube.

Photo by Tara Brown Photography/ University of Washington
Photo by Tara Brown Photography/ University of Washington

In a new paper, the scientists describe how they successfully encoded 4 digital photos as nucleotide sequences of synthetic DNA snippets. They then retrieved the photo by reversing the process from a larger pool of DNA, and the images were reconstructed without a single byte of data missing.

Two of the photos encoded and decoded by the scientists using DNA.
Two of the photos encoded and decoded by the scientists using DNA.

“We’re essentially repurposing it to store digital data — pictures, videos, documents — in a manageable way for hundreds or thousands of years,” the scientists say. All the digital data worldwide is expected to hit 44 trillion gigabytes by 2020, so scientists are scrambling for data storage solutions that are more efficient and more stable than current options.

Current digital data storage options (e.g. discs, flash drives, and hard drives) generally have life spans measured in decades, but DNA can preserve data for centuries.

(via UW via Gizmodo)


P.S. We previously reported on efforts to use DNA as digital data storage in 2012 and 2013.

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