Will the archives of the future be made of the strand of DNA?

The prospect of combining archives and DNA feels like a plotline of a Twilight Zone episode. What's exciting however is that it is a distinct possibility. The Guardian have just released a story about the DNA inscription of a book (  http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2012/aug/16/book-written-dna-code) initially reported in the US journal, Science. The book composed of 53,000 words includes eleven images and a computer program. The 5.27 megabit collection of data created over several days was produced by Professor George Church of Harvard Medical School.

The method they used, in principle, was the same as digital inscription: encoding all the book information into a binary sequence. The DNA base pairs in this case representing 1's and 0's with Arginine (‘A’) and Cytosine (‘C’) representing zero, and Guanine (‘G’) and Tyrosine (‘T’) representing one. The team developed a system in which an inkjet printer embeds short fragments of artificially synthesized DNA onto a glass chip. Each DNA fragment contains a digital address code that denotes location within the original fiDNAle.

What makes DNA such a brilliant medium for storage is its data storage with estimates suggesting a gram of DNA can store 455 billion gigabytes. The data is easily readable and copied and maintains its stability for several thousand years.  

The possibilities are fantastic. To put this in perspective, most digital formats require an upgrade after five years with physical data storage such as DVDs having, at most, a twenty year life span. This is because of the constant change in informational software packages within sturdy digital formats, such as TIFFs and PDFs having 10-15 year maximum life span. A DNA code sequence is therefore more desirable than a digital approximate, but neverless it is an exciting development and will potentially rival the paper record revolution in record keeping. This is an exciting archival perspective.

As a cataloguer and digitiser of the DNA related material of the Kings college London archive such a development is one of a personal joy. It would feel wonderfully apt to have the papers charting the discovery of the structure of DNA are encoded into DNA for future generations.

No comments:

Post a Comment