Using DNA instead of DVDs to store data

Scientists have figured out how to use DNA as a way to store data.
Written by Denise Amrich, Contributor

Here at ZDNet Health, we love a good, ripped-from-a-science-fiction-movie-plot application of science and technology.

Perhaps you've never thought of Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA) as a recording medium like a DVD. But scientists have figured out how to use DNA, the very molecule encoding the genetic instructions for all known living organisms, as a way to store data. So far, they've managed to record, store, re-extract, and play Dr Martin Luther King's famous "I Have a Dream" speech and some sonnets by Shakespeare. They've managed to store text, audio clips, and photographs and restore them with 99.99 percent accuracy. That's better accuracy than lossy MP3s and JPEG images!

According to scientists quoted in an article in the Wall Street Journal, DNA could be the perfect storage mechanism, and possibly a solution to our big-data problems. The DNA molecule is stable, durable, and dense. It's not alive, and could be kept passively in a storage device for thousands of years. It's also capable of holding a lot of information. For example, one single cup of DNA could, in theory, store about 100 million hours of high-definition video.

I have been sitting here for a few minutes just imagining possibilities. What if, in the future, we all end up with DNA writers attached to our laptops? What if we could send a message to someone in a cloned animal or person, sort of like that cat was carrying a galaxy around in a bauble on its collar in Men in Black? What if we could encode our DNA to lose or gain weight or height, or change our hair color? Could a person be "written" from the best things humanity has created? Or would we just end up with 1,000 Kardashians? Where would we end and our data begin?

Watch this video, it will bottle your mind. Yes, I said it that way on purpose*.

*Bragging rights go to the first person who can name the movie where the idea of "mind bottling" originated. What bottles your mind? Talk back below.

Editorial standards