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Book written in DNA code.

By   16th August 2012.

Scientists who encoded the book say it could soon be cheaper to store information in DNA than in conventional digital devices.

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Two molecules of DNA

Book of life: DNA is the ultimate compact storage medium. Photograph: Alamy

Scientists have for the first time used DNA to encode the contents of a book. At 53,000 words, and including 11 images and a computer program, it is the largest amount of data yet stored artificially using the genetic material.

The researchers claim that the cost of DNA coding is dropping so quickly that within five to 10 years it could be cheaper to store information using this method than in conventional digital devices.

Deoxyribonucleic acid or DNA – the chemical that stores genetic instructions in almost all known organisms – has an impressive data capacity. One gram can store up to 455bn gigabytes: the contents of more than 100bn DVDs, making it the ultimate in compact storage media.

A three-strong team led by Professor George Church of Harvard Medical School has now demonstrated that the technology to store data in DNA, while still slow, is becoming more practical. They report in the journal Science that the 5.27 megabit collection of data they stored is more than 600 times bigger than the largest dataset previously encoded this way.

Writing the data to DNA took several days. “This is currently something for archival storage,” explained co-author Dr Sriram Kosuri of Harvard’s Wyss Institute, “but the timing is continually improving.”

DNA has numerous advantages over traditional digital storage media. It can be easily copied, and is often still readable after thousands of years in non-ideal conditions. Unlike ever-changing electronic storage formats such as magnetic tape and DVDs, the fundamental techniques required to read and write DNA information are as old as life on Earth.

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