Harvard scientists encode an entire book onto DNA

Harvard scientists encode an entire book onto DNA

Summary: A team of Harvard researchers have managed to encode a book onto DNA, paving the way for wider use of the technology as a storage medium.


Harvard researchers have succeeded in storing an entire book on DNA and reading the information back, paving the way for the use of the building block of life as a high-density storage medium.

The research was published in Science on Friday. The researchers used a combination of commercial tools for DNA synthesis and new methods of DNA sequencing to store a copy of lead researcher George Church's forthcoming book Regenesis: How Synthetic Biology Will Reinvent Nature and Ourselves in DNA onto DNA.

"The density is remarkably high," Church says in a video explaining the research. "We can store on the order of almost a zettabyte [of data] in a gram of DNA."

This method can store data at densities many orders of magnitude greater than current non-biological techniques. By comparison, Church's DNA method can store around 125TB of information in one cubic millimetre of DNA, while prototype heat-assisted magnetic recording technology from Seagate can store 125GB of information per square inch.

The team stored the information by encoding the book as binary code and using the base pairs of DNA for binary characters. A and C stood for zero, while T and G for one.  The book was split into 96-bit data blocks which each had a 19-bit address to allow them to be reassembled. Each block was written as its unique DNA sequence. The team sequenced 54,898 of these to create the book.

In the future, Church imagines a world full of "very inexpensive [DNA-based] biological cameras" that record video footage for later analysis by big data technologies. However, the cost of the sequencing and encoding technology would need to dramatically come down for such a scenario to be possible.

The funding for the research came from the US office of Naval Research, Agilent Technologies and the Wyss Institute.

Topics: Emerging Tech, Storage

Jack Clark

About Jack Clark

Currently a reporter for ZDNet UK, I previously worked as a technology researcher and reporter for a London-based news agency.

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  • Gives new meaning to Q: "Read anything interesting lately?"

    First book they should have encoded was Fahrenheit 451 - Ray Bradbury would have approved.
  • Brings new meaning to:

    "My dog ate my homework"
  • is it the end of deciphering machines ?

    seems like something the cia would like to use !
  • Yeah, except that it takes several hours

    to chemically synthesize DNA.
    • And probably longer...

      ...to copy one's porn collection to it. At 125 TB per cubic mm, a single-platter disk drive (not that disk is necessarily the form factor used) could hold a modest collection.
  • Does this mean...

    ...I'll need yet ANOTHER reader app for my Android phone?
  • gives new meaning...

    to the term virus... prescription anti-virus anyone?
  • the jaded part of me wants to criticize how useless this is

    but lots of incredible innovations have come out of seemingly useless whims of fancy
  • WoW

    So now someone will store a lot of comics and then make a real Killer Clowns from outer space.
    But for reals, that could make a wristwatch or cellphone that stores a record of pretty much everything you own.
  • Until They Try To Copy It ...

    They do realize the mutation rate of the DNA replication process is ... rather higher than the error rate we expect with computer data, right?
    • And Yet Another

      way the MPAA and DRM can lay claim to your person!
  • alright

    Slap that baby into a plasmid and throw it into a bacteria. I want to see what it makes. Probably some amazingly toxic metabolite that will kill humanity. He shouldn't have used the Twilight series as his reference.
  • So, How many

    Mitocondria does it take to write a Novel?
  • Rob Manzoni

    Does this mean that the same could be done in half the weight using RNA? The bases could be degenerate: G and/or A = 0, C and/or U = 1...?
  • Rob Manzoni

    ..and is there enough space in human- (or any organisms) "junk"-DNA to splice this in without affecting the life-form, so that everyone could carry this info around? Something for fururists to consider when planning long-distance hibernation space exploration and travel.
    The cost and scale of the en- and de-cyphering apparatus currently puts this out of the "portable drive" market, but I remember when CD's were considered impossible to produce outside the large studios... and when solid-state drives were considered 100 years away (until HP "bubble memory" became a serious concept)