DNA as data storage

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On Friday evening, London’s V&A Museum was taken over by synthetic biologists for Synthetic Aesthetics, part of its Friday Late series. During the night, scientist Nick Goldman and artist Charlotte Jarvis spoke about their project Music of the Spheres, which will use the data storage possibilities of DNA to synthesise a unique piece of music that can only be listened to when the DNA it is stored in is sequenced.

To demonstrate the project, Goldman and Jarvis dropped a splash of DNA – coded with a special ten-second piece of music inspired by a server room – into soap solution and dispersed it from a bubble machine, coating the museum’s John Madejski Gardens (and the audience) with residues of the track.

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DNA as a storage method for data is quickly becoming more feasible, Goldman explained in his introductory talk, and its potential is mind-boggling. Here’s why.

It’s space-saving: while current storage methods for data involve huge warehouses of hardware, all the data in the world could be synthesised in an amount of DNA that would fit in the back of one van.

It’s efficient: one thimbleful of DNA is the equivalent of one petabyte, or 1000 terabytes, of information.

It’s long-lasting: DNA is proven to last for at least 1000 years and there will always be equipment that can sequence (read) DNA, meaning that we’ll always be able to access the data we’ve stored.

It’s increasingly accessible: a device called MinION, which plugs into a normal computer and can sequence DNA in as little as one day, is due to launch this year, and will cost less than £1000.

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DNA as data storage