The DNA will be confirmed as a system for the storage of digital information because it is possible to codify it in the genomes of the living cells, according to a recent investigation.
In 2025, the world will have stored 175 Zettabytes of data, according to Rethink Data, which represents a technological challenge.
A Zettabyte is equivalent to 1,000 million terabytes, while a terabyte equals 1,000 gigabytes or 1,000,000 megabytes. Each MB is equivalent to one million bytes. Each byte represents a set of 8 bits, the minimum addressable memory element of a computer.
In other words, to arrange 3 zettabytes of storage, 300 million hard drives of 10 TB each would have to be connected. That represents an increasingly pressing technological problem: soon we will need the ability to store that amount of data, he warned Nature magazine in 2016.
Working with Genetic code
Genetic code instead of alternative binary may be the way to change data storage. It has led scientists to explore the possibility of using the natural information storage system, DNA to achieve what now is considered an unsurmountable goal.
DNA can store billions of “bits” of base pairs, the complete set of instructions to make a complete human being, in a single microscopic cell.
Scientists have already managed to translate the binary code (two-bit) to the four-letter genetic code, through which the cells receive the instructions for making a specific protein.
A, T, C and G are the “letters” of the DNA Code: they represent the chemical compounds of adenine (A), thymine (T), cytosine (C) and guanine (G), which constitute the nucleotide bases of DNA .
The code for each gene combines the four chemical compounds in different ways to form “words” of three letters, which specify which amino acids are needed in each step of the synthesis of a protein, explains the NIH.
A truly Live hard drive
Scientists have discovered that they can store whole libraries of digital information: books, movies and videogames that can be loaded in lowercase synthetic DNA drops and then recovered.
Scientists trust that one day DNA can offer a profitable and ecological alternative to traditional storage technology based on silicon chips.
However, a problem that researchers who work in this area have faced is that synthetic DNA tends to deteriorate over time.
However, a team of scientists from Columbia University believes to have found a solution to this problem: encoding digital information directly on the genomes of the living cells, which has more than 4.6 million pairs of DNA bases. Researchers emphasize that retains data in a surprisingly stable and solid manner.
“That a live cell can provide a more stable environment for storing data may seem contradictory, but a cell actually possesses sophisticated mechanisms to maintain the integrity of its DNA and quickly correct any genetic error that may occur as a result of radiation, toxins or other problems,” explains the director of this research, Harris H. Wang, in a statement.
A bacterium with digital information
A bacterium with digital information equipment has managed to spread individual data bits in large extensions of the E. coli genome, thus confirming that information is transmitted safely through successive generations of cells, even if mutations occur during cellular reproduction.
“We have carried out experiments to demonstrate that the data is well preserved over hundreds of generations,” adds Wang. “For all purposes, it seems to be a reliable means of saving data permanently”.
Wang and his colleagues, who used the popular CRISPR-CAS genetic editing technology to encode data on non-pathogenic strains of E. coli, are proposed to improve the speed to which they can load and recover data from bacteria, since the process is currently too slow for commercial use.
However, Wang is convinced that it will be possible to replace batteries of hard disks from a computer with a population of E. coli cells that could fit into a test tube.
“The most important advantage of storing digital information in DNA is that it is a means that will never become obsolete,” he explains. “The double helix will always be the ideal storage technology, and our ability to manipulate and read DNA will only improve,” he concludes.