Scientists have discovered a way to use DNA to store information for up to 2,000 years.
The researchers are now working on developing a filing system that would make the groundbreaking system easier to navigate, the American Chemical Society reported.
"If you go back to medieval times in Europe, we had monks writing in books to transmit information for the future, and some of those books still exist," said researcher Robert Grass. "Now, we save information on hard drives, which wear out in a few decades."
The amount of information in the world is growing at an alarming rate, but technology to preserve this information has not been able to keep up, this new technology could help rememdy that.
"A little after the discovery of the double helix architecture of DNA, people figured out that the coding language of nature is very similar to the binary language we use in computers," Grass said. "On a hard drive, we use 0s and 1s to represent data, and in DNA, we have four nucleotides A, C, T and G."
DNA has important qualities such as the potential for a large hard drive space and durability. While a paperback book-sized external hard drive stores about five terabytes of information and has a lifespan of about 50 years, a DNA-based hard drive weighing only a fraction of an ounce could store more than 300,000 terabytes and last for generations. In a recent experiment, a research team encoded DNA with 83 kilobytes of text from the Swiss Federal Charter from 1291 and the Method of Archimedes from the 10th century. They warmed it to nearly 160 degrees Fahrenheit for one week, which is the equivalent of keeping it at 50 degrees for about 2,000 years, and found that it remained error-free.
While this type of technology will not be obtainable to average consumers in the foreseeable future, the researchers hope it can be used to take "snapshots" of important data portals such as Wikipedia.
"This interest in preserving information is something we have lost, especially in a digital world," Grass says. "And that's what I'd like to help address and encourage people to do: Save information we have today for future times."
The findings were presented at the 250th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS).