DNA usually stores genetic material, however, researchers from the University of Washington, Microsoft and Twist Bioscience — a company that specializes in DNA synthesis — have now hijacked the functionality of DNA molecules to store audio recordings. In this process, binary code is converted into the language of DNA (sequences of A, C, T and G). Last year the team was able to store 200 megabytes of data on DNA, including a music video by the band OK Go, and more recently they have encoded Miles Davis’ “Tutu”, and Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water” — both taken from the Montreux Jazz Festival archives.
This is the first time DNA has been used for long-term archival-quality storage. It turns out that DNA is a much more efficient data-storage method: Twist Bioscience claims that “where the very best conventional storage media may preserve their digital content for a hundred years under precise conditions, synthetic DNA preserves its information content for hundreds or thousands of years.” Bill Peck, the Chief Technology Officer of Twist Bioscience, stated that “DNA is a remarkably efficient molecule that can remain stable for millennia. 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.”
Not to mention, the space in which these songs can now be kept is tiny! As Microsoft senior researcher Karin Strauss, Ph.D., said in a recent statement, “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.”
Quincy Jones, who has been involved with the Montreux Jazz Festival for many years, is also passionate about this project: “With the unreliability of how archives are often stored, I sometimes worry that our future generations will be left without such access…I’m proud to know that the memory of this special place will never be lost.”
Photo by Bdna.gif: Spiffistan, Space-filling model animation of B-DNA, made with qutemol via Wikicommons