DNA is the building block for life in every living creature. It is what makes every living being unique and so similar at the same time. Whenever a new creature, animal or human, is born, its DNA structure is received from the parents. Without DNA, we will cease to exist.
Why is DNA important?
DNA is nature’s way of reading and recording data. Mutations of the DNA structure are what cause evolution to occur and explains all life on Earth.
To understand the complexity of DNA, we suggest checking out this video by Stated Clearly.
The story of saving data in DNA
2020 has been a roller coaster of a year. It gave us unpredictable circumstances and left the entire world in awe.
While much of the news we hear about 2020 is negative, positive events happened also. Communities around the world got together and helped each other in their time of need. This combination of knowledge and people produced some exciting stories from around the world.
Formula 1 teams used their R&D department to produce ventilators for COVID-19 patients when races for postponed.
The 3D printing community rose up and produced protection equipment for hospital workers who were under-equipped.
A 12-year old realized that wearing face masks is painful on the ears after prolonged use. He empathized with hospital workers who were working double shifts around the clock and invented a stupidly simple invention to ease the ear pain.
It takes effort to find positive news, but it’s always out there. These are just 3 from possibly millions of such stories that never made it to the mainstream media.
Preserving all the memories – good and bad
Time capsules have been around for a long time and are used to document history for future generations. The team at The Verge wanted to showcase what 2020 was all about and wanted it to last for an extremely long time.
The only problem is that most storage media is built to be cheap, not durable. After going through a bunch of options including magnetic tapes (life expectancy is around 30 years at max), they decided to think outside the box.
After looking at some experimental technology like 5D discs, they realized it’s not feasible to do it right now. The search continued and finally, a solution was found:
They decided to store the memories in DNA.
The process of converting data to DNA
A number of files, including pictures and videos were gathered and fed into an encoder (encrypting the data).
Any sort of file is just a bunch of ones and zeros at their most basic level. That’s how machines understand instructions and perform operations on them.
After converting the files into machine code (1’s & 0’s), they were fed into an encoder that would map the bits to DNA language.
DNA is made up of nucleotides which contain nitrogen bases. There are 4 types of nitrogen bases: adenine (A), thymine (T), guanine (G), and cytosine (C).
The entire DNA structure is made of these 4 bases connecting to each other in specific sequences.
What they encoder did was to map the bits to the bases and produce an output like below.
00 was mapped to adenine, 01 was mapped to cytosine, 10 was mapped to guanine, and 11 became thymine.
Did it work?
It certainly did. The DNA structure was read and produced 100% identical files. The sample of DNA that was sent to The Verge can easily last up to 300 years at room temperature.
With the addition of inert helium gas, the DNA strands have the potential to be kept safe for thousands of years.
Can I store data in DNA?
The Verge took the help of some high-tech research labs and they were able to produce these results. While storing data in DNA might not be feasible for the common man, this experiment has shown that it’s definitely doable.
As time goes on and the equipment needed to produce similar results becomes cheaper, we could possibly start doing this in less than a decade.
Needless to say, this is a landmark in data storage capabilities. When computers were first invented, no one could’ve imagined the need to store information in DNA. How times change, right?
It’s intersting to imagine how long before we need to discover a better solution. Will there ever come a time when even DNA preservation does not fulfill our needs? What will we look towards next?
What are your thoughts? Leave them in the comment section below!
If you enjoyed this, you might be interested in reading about the hottest possible temperature – 142 nonillion degrees. If you like plants, read about what happens when you talk to them.
I love understanding how different technologies work and explaining them to people. From tech guides to opinions, everything is interesting to me. Other than that, I enjoy writing about various science-related topics and conversing with people.