All the worldâ€™s data can fit on a DNA hard drive the size of a teaspoon
Adam Rifkin stashed this in Storage!
Even though itâ€™s lookingÂ increasingly likelyÂ that humanity will find a way to wipe itself off the face of the Earth, thereâ€™s a chance that our creative outputÂ mayÂ live on. Servers, hard drives, flash drives, and disks will degrade (as will our libraries of paper books, of course), but aÂ group of researchers at theÂ Swiss Federal Institute of Technology have found a way to encode data onto DNAâ€”the very same stuff that all living beingsâ€™ genetic information is stored onâ€”that could survive for millennia.
OneÂ gram of DNA can potentiallyÂ hold up to 455 exabytes of data, according to theÂ New Scientist. For reference: There are one billion gigabytes in an exabyte, and 1,000 exabytes in a zettabyte. The cloud computing company EMCÂ estimated that there wereÂ 1.8 zettabytes of data in the world in 2011, which means we would need only about 4 grams (about aÂ teaspoon) of DNA to hold everything from Plato through the complete works of Shakespeare to Beyonceâ€™s latest albumÂ (not to mentionÂ everyÂ brunchÂ photo ever posted on Instagram).
There are four types of molecules that make up DNA, which form pairs.Â To encode information on DNA, scientistsÂ program the pairs into 1s and osâ€”the same binary language that encodes digital data. This is not a new conceptâ€”scientists at Harvard UniversityÂ encoded a bookonto DNA in 2012â€”but up to now, it had been difficult to retrieve the information stored on the DNA.
Past tests haveÂ seenÂ gaps in retrieved information, as DNA reacts with its environment and degrades at room temperature. Robert Grass, the leader of the project at the Federal Institute,Â has foundÂ a new way to preserve the information: treat it like a fossil.Â His team encased their DNA sample in a shell made from silicaâ€”similar in structure to fossilized bones and one of the main components of glassâ€”and stored the sample at about 140Â°F for a few weeks to test its durability.
WhenÂ researchers recoveredÂ the sample, they were still able to read the encoded data, and GrassÂ told theÂ Instituteâ€™s blogÂ that hadÂ the DNAÂ been stored at subzero temperatures, it could potentially be read inÂ over a million years. CDs and DVDs only have shelf lives ofÂ about 25 years, according to the US National Archives, so this would beÂ quiteÂ an improvement on our current data storage techniques.