Could this ultimate storage solution meet the ever-growing needs of archivists in this age of digital information?

This dream has come a step closer to reality with the publication of a new technique in this week’s edition of the scientific journalNature.

Stored in DNA

A team of researchers headed by Nick Goldman and Ewan Birney at the European Bioinformatics Institute of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL-EBI) has dramatically demonstrated the potential of the technique to store and transport human-made data.

Their data included some well-chosen iconic elements: Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets, an audio excerpt from Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech, Watson and Crick’s  classic paper on the structure of DNA, and a colour photograph of the European Bioinformatics Institute.

These files, in common digital formats found on almost every desktop computer, were encoded byte-by-byte as DNA molecules, shipped from the USA to Germany without specialised packaging, and finally decoded back into their original electronic formats.

Although the study involved less than a megabyte of data in total, this is already orders of magnitude more than has previously been encoded as synthesised DNA.