This DNA data storage study will make you reconsider the digital future

If you have data to archive, there are many current options available: HDDs, SSDs, CDs and DVDs to name a few. In the future, though, data storage may look considerably different, and instead involve the careful use of encoded DNA. Though the idea to use DNA for data storage isn't new, the technology is still in its infancy. A new study sheds light on what is currently possible, and details a couple of astounding breakthroughs, not the least of which is encoding a movie in DNA.

The latest DNA data storage achievements were made in part with the gene-editing technology CRISPR — in this case, the researchers used CRISPR-Cas microbial immune system. According to the study, which was recently published in Nature, 'When harnessed, [CRISPR-Cas] has the potential to write arbitrary information into the genome.' This is done by adding nucleotides to a living cell over time.

The study explains that the researchers' project 'demonstrates that this system can capture and stably store practical amounts of real data within the genomes of populations of living cells.' What did the researchers store? A small black-and-white movie, one that is very low resolution but easily distinguishable.

Unlike past efforts to store data in DNA, this research was successful using living rather than synthetic DNA. The data was stored via nucleotides over time, with the bacteria essentially saving bits of the introduced information in its own DNA as a sort of biological record. The researchers were then able to extract this information again from the DNA and reconstruct in into videos that were nearly identical to the original.

Though we're still a long way off from storing tomes of ancient knowledge using living cells, the breakthrough is a major one, highlighting the growing potential of this storage medium. In the past, we've seen researchers successfully store data like snippets of text in synthetic DNA, in one case storing more than 5-megabits worth of information.