The promise of the Information Age is to have the world’s data at your fingertips at any given moment, but scientists are trying to turn that saying into a literal truth with the aid of genetic engineering. That’s right, where cyberpunk always prophesized that we would have electronic hard drives wired into our bodies, now the new dream is to turn the building blocks of the human body itself into a hard drive. While we haven’t quite reached the point where we can store large amounts of data in our own DNA just yet, a team of scientists has successfully encoded an entire genetics textbook into less than one trillionth of a gram of DNA on a specially designed microchip.
The problem with storing data on DNA has always been that DNA dies, and also mutates in successive generations. While that works great in the grand scheme of evolution, it’s not so good at keeping an error-free storage system over time. As reported by the Huffington Post, synthetic biologist George Church and his team have created an archival system using DNA chips that creates multiple redundant backups of the information coded with the four-letter alphabet of DNA’s A’s, C’s, G’s and T’s. The system also includes a sort of genetic barcode that points back to the source of the file, and a computer compares the information against multiple copies of itself to check for accuracy.
Using their new method, Church and his team encoded a genetics book that he co-authored with an error rate of only 2 in 1 million bits. That basically amounts to only a couple of single-letter typos. Because of the small amount of space needed, this also now makes DNA chips the highest-density storage medium in existence.
While the theory is sound and the experiment was successful, you still need a DNA sequencer and a host of other expensive equipment to actually read what is on the DNA chips. It may be a quite a while before we start to see this technology hit widespread use, but this does bring us one step closer to biological computers. Does this make anyone else think of the bio-neural gel packs from Star Trek, or am I letting my nerdy imagination run away with me again?