Experiments have been going on for a while to use DNA molecules as a data storage medium. But a Harvard team has recently beat the previous record for storage by successfully storing 5.5 petabits of data (approximately 700 terabytes) in one gram
of DNA. Unlike some of the quantum based storage methods currently being researched, DNA storage does not require exotic environments or extreme temperatures to work since DNA is stable at normal room temperatures.
There's a video on Vimeo where the team talks about the project. Link here
A quick write-up can be found here
A more technical article is available on the Harvard Medical School website. Link here
Some interesting highlights about the possibilities of this technology:
And where some experimental media—like quantum holography—require incredibly cold temperatures and tremendous energy, DNA is stable at room temperature. “You can drop it wherever you want, in the desert or your backyard, and it will be there 400,000 years later,” Church said.
Reading and writing in DNA is slower than in other media, however, which makes it better suited for archival storage of massive amounts of data, rather than for quick retrieval or data processing. “Imagine that you had really cheap video recorders everywhere,” Church said. “Just paint walls with video recorders. And for the most part they just record and no one ever goes to them. But if something really good or really bad happens you want to go and scrape the wall and see what you got. So something that’s molecular is so much more energy efficient and compact that you can consider applications that were impossible before.”
About four grams of DNA theoretically could store the digital data humankind creates in one year.
There's also an interesting note for those who may have ethical or religious concerns about this particular type of project (emphasis added):
Although other projects have encoded data in the DNA of living bacteria, the Church team used commercial DNA microchips to create standalone DNA. “We purposefully avoided living cells,” Church said. “In an organism, your message is a tiny fraction of the whole cell, so there’s a lot of wasted space. But more importantly, almost as soon as a DNA goes into a cell, if that DNA doesn’t earn its keep, if it isn’t evolutionarily advantageous, the cell will start mutating it, and eventually the cell will completely delete it.”
The full research team's report
has been published on Science
magazine's website (Sorry! $$$ or subscription req.).
Very cool stuff.