Scientists store 700 terabytes in a gram of DNA (Johnny Mnemonic, here we come)

Hahvahd scientists have successfully stored 70 billion copies of their own book on genetics and biology in just a gram of DNA. That’s 700 terabytes, in a gram.

DNA is a fantastic medium from a storage perspective. Its storage density is one million gigabits per cubic millimeter. A gigabit is a billion bits, and one gigabit equals 125 megabytes. So a million gigabits, if I’m not such a math idiot as some have said, is 125,000 gigabytes … in one cubic millimeter.

That’s a little more storage than fits in your new MacBook Air.

The Harvard scientists followed a four-step process: encoding the book into the zeroes and ones of computer storage, and then into the language of DNA. To read the data, they then synthesized the DNA and decoded the gene sequences:

Above: Storing data in DNA

Image Credit: Harvard

The key, according to author George Church, is that “most non-DNA methods store on a plane what DNA stores in a volume.” That 3-D storage method is about as good as it gets: According to Sri Kosuri, one of the scientists who made it happen, the storage density compares “favorably with other experimental storage methods from biology and physics.”

In fact, it’s so good, according to a Harvard Medical School write-up, that all the data the world creates in a year could theoretically fit in four grams of DNA.

In addition, DNA is stable at room temperature, unlike other high-density storage methodologies such as quantum holography, which requires near absolute zero temperatures and massive energy expenditures. One downer: encoding is slow, and decoding is also.

And the book?

It may not exactly be bedtime reading unless you’re actually trying to sleep … “Regenesis: How Synthetic Biology Will Reinvent Nature and Ourselves” … but there are now more copies in existence, sort of, to make it far and away the biggest bestseller ever.

If only each one was paid for.

photo credit: kevin dooley via photo pin cc