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Harvard scientists encode an entire book onto DNA

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.
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Written by Jack Clark on

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.

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