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Music Stored In Synthetic DNA? The Technology Is Already There

You can beat Nature sometimes, and when it comes to store information, there is nothing better than DNA, the molecule of life!

Twist Bioscience, a company specialized in high-quality DNA synthesis, has successfully stored audio recordings of two important music performances from the world-renowned Montreux Jazz Festival, Deep Purple’s ‘Smoke on the Water’ and Miles Davis’ Tutu, with the help of Microsoft and University of Washington researchers. The surprising part of the story is that the music was stored in synthetic DNA.

As most people know, computers use a binary code made of 0s and 1s, whereas DNA coding uses four distinct nucleotide bases: adenine (A), cytosine (C), guanine (G) and thymine (T). The digital music files were converted from the binary code into sequences of A, C, T and G with, for example, 00 representing A, 10 representing C, 01 representing G and 11 representing T. After synthesizing short fragments of DNA with a sequence number to indicate their place within the overall sequence, scientists test proved the accuracy of the sequences, and were happy with the result.

‘We archived two magical musical pieces on DNA of this historic collection, equating to 140MB of stored data in DNA,’ said Karin Strauss, Ph.D., a Senior Researcher at Microsoft, and one of the project’s leaders. ‘The amount of DNA used to store these songs is much smaller than one grain of sand. Amazingly, storing the entire six petabyte Montreux Jazz Festival’s collection would result in DNA smaller than one grain of rice.’

I am not even sure what a petabyte represents. but DNA sure stores a very impressive amount of info in an amazingly small amount of space.

Luis Ceze, Ph.D., a professor in the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering at the University of Washington, said, ‘DNA, nature’s preferred information storage medium, is an ideal fit for digital archives because of its durability, density and eternal relevance. Storing items from the Montreux Jazz Festival is a perfect way to show how fast DNA digital data storage is becoming real.’

’DNA is a remarkably efficient molecule that can remain stable for millennia,’ said Bill Peck, Ph.D., chief technology officer of Twist Bioscience. ‘This is a very exciting project: we are now in an age where we can use the remarkable efficiencies of nature to archive master copies of our cultural heritage in DNA. As we develop the economies of this process new performances can be added any time. Unlike current storage technologies, nature’s media will not change and will remain readable through time. There will be no new technology to replace DNA, nature has already optimized the format.’

Within the 75 trillion cells of the human body, there is the equivalent of the storage of 150 zettabytes of information and you would need millions of square feet to hold a comparable amount of stored data with current technology.

Beside being extremely compact, researchers also say that DNA can be stable for thousands of years when stored in a cool dry place (and I suppose kept away from possible mutagen agents?) while being also easy to recopy using polymerase chain reaction (PCR).

I still have no idea about the kind of apparatus we will be using to read music stored in DNA, but get ready for your portable DNA reader I guess? The future looks even wilder than you have ever imagined.

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