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Harvard stores 704TB in a gram of DNA, may have us shopping for organically-grown storage (video)


Early research has had DNA making circuits and little factories. We haven't really seen DNA used as a storage medium, however, and it's evident we've been missing out. A Harvard team led by George Church, Sriram Kosuri and Yuan Gao can stuff 96 bits into a DNA strand by treating each base (A, C, G, T) as though it's a binary value. The genetic sequence is then synthesized by a microfluidic chip that matches up that sequence with its position in a relevant data set, even when all the DNA strands are out of order. The technique doesn't sound like much on its own, but the microscopic size amounts to a gigantic amount of information at a scale we can see: about 704TB of data fits into a cubic millimeter, or more than you'd get out of a few hundred hard drives. Caveats? The processing time is currently too slow for time-sensitive content, and cells with living DNA would destroy the strands too quickly to make them viable for anything more than just transfers. All the same, such density and a lifespan of eons could have us turning to DNA storage not just for personal backups, but for backing up humanity's collective knowledge. We're less ambitious -- we'd most like to know if we'll be buying organic hard drives alongside the fair trade coffee and locally-sourced fruit.

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