Sunday April 24, 2016

Storing digital data in DNA

Listen 12:52

This story first aired in April, 2016.

What if there was a way to store as many digital files as we want and keep them forever? That sounds impossible-- unless maybe you could store those digital files in DNA. Luis Ceze is a professor of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Washington.  

"Life uses [DNA] to store information genes, about how living processes work. We're essentially repurposing that molecule to store digital information."

Luis is part of a team of researchers who have detailed one of the first complete systems to encode, store and retrieve digital data using DNA molecules. They demonstrated a DNA based storage system using four digital image files, including everyone's favourite digital image-- a cat photo!

The potential to store a huge amount information in a very small amount of space is why DNA storage would be so revolutionary. Luis likens it to being able to store all of the data on the internet in a shoebox.

There is other scientific research looking into DNA Storage techniques and this work has even got the attention of Hollywood, and not as an idea for some heist film involving computer scientists and engineers.

Technicolor Celebrates 100 Years Of Creative Technology With A Hollywood Star Of Recognition

Technicolor Research Center Director Jean Bolot holds a vile of DNA. Technicolor is working to encoding video into DNA. (Technicolor)

The folks at Technicolor are interested in the potential of this technology for archiving films. They've recently completed a project with researchers at Harvard to encode a film into DNA. 

Jean Bolot is the Vice President of Research and Innovation at Technicolor.