DNA could someday store more than just the blueprints for life—it could also house vast collections of documents, music, or video in an impossibly compact format that lasts for thousands of years.
Researchers at the European Bioinformatics Institute in Hinxton, U.K., have demonstrated a new method for reliably encoding several common computer file formats this way. As the price of sequencing and synthesizing DNA continues to drop, the researchers estimate, this biological storage medium will be competitive within the next few decades.
The information storage density of DNA is at least a thousand times greater than that of existing media, but until recently the cost of DNA synthesis was too high for the technology to be anything more than a curiosity. Conventional methods of storing digital information for prolonged periods continue to pose problems, however. The magnetic tapes typically used for archival storage become brittle and lose their coating after a few decades. And even if the physical medium used to store information remains intact, storage formats are always changing. This means the data has to be transferred to a new format or it may become unreadable.