Shakespeare’s Sonnets, MLK Speech Encoded As DNA

By Nick Venable | Published

This article is more than 2 years old


No matter how hard I try, which isn’t ever really hard, I can’t keep good records. The paperwork kind. Every time I need to search for something, it always involves digging through a bundle. A lot of my stuff is backed up online now, but I’ll never fully trust these dadgum computin’ machines. I’d never before considered storing information into DNA, because that’s fucking crazy, right?

Ewan Birney, of the European Bioinformatics Institute in Hinxton, England, recently published a study in the journal Nature reporting his success in storing information onto strands of synthetic DNA. Or rather, the DNA was made of the information itself. That information included every one of Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets, a photograph, a science paper, and 26 seconds of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. That’s pretty amazing. But don’t go thinking your kids and grandkids will have multimedia running through their genes. It isn’t compatible with our own DNA due to the coding process used.

The process was achieved by converting the digital ones and zeroes into the four-letter alphabet of the DNA code. Strands of synthetic DNA are made from the code, and then specialized machines recover the encoded information by “reading” the DNA. Granted, the recovery process took two weeks, but it can only get faster as the technology gets better.

Now, realize that this isn’t a concept meant for saving a couple of pirated movies. Envision the world’s libraries, or a lifetime of photographs, both meant for future generations, hundreds of years into the future. It doesn’t take much beyond a cool temperature, a lack of humidity, and darkness to store it. And you don’t have to worry about yellowed paper or warping messing up Dr. King’s speech. All that said, I have $50 on Apple putting DNA into a phone in five years’ time.