Is DNA the best way to store data?

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1. Smart molecule

Each and every day, we create digital data – whether it’s photographing a special moment, chatting on social media, or downloading films, books or music. But if we want to keep that data for decades, or perhaps even beyond our lifetimes, there's a problem.

Currently data is stored on iron oxide hard disk drives and magnetic tapes, which have a short shelf-life and need to be renewed. So scientists have been looking at a more permanent archiving solution: DNA.

DNA is the molecule that contains and passes on our genetic information, and it's remarkably efficient at doing this. Scientists have already had some success at using it to store our legacy.

2. CLICKABLE: Perfect data store?

What makes DNA ideal for storing information? Click on the images below to find out.

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3. Replacing hard drives with DNA

By using DNA as our main data store, all the information in the world could be stored in the back of one van – which might come in handy as the amount of data we're generating grows at an extraordinary rate.

So what’s the catch?

Scientists have successfully encoded several digital files in DNA – but they admit the technique needs refining before it can be rolled out.

DNA is slow and expensive to make as it requires pinpoint precision to ensure every single molecule is coded accurately. So, at the moment, mass production is not an option.

But as DNA synthesis continues to improve, scientists believe this smart molecule can one day become a realistic permanent storage device for all our data.

4. Success stories

What's it already possible to do with DNA? Click on the options below to find out.

Photographs

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Photographs

Yes

Scientists at the European Bioinformatics Institute in Cambridgeshire successfully saved a photograph of their laboratory onto DNA.

Bank transactions

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Bank transactions

Not yet

Dr Nick Goldman from the European Bioinformatics Institute believes it will be possible to routinely store bank transactions on DNA within the next decade.

Music

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Music

Yes

A classical music quartet recorded a new composition that was encoded in DNA for a visual art exhibition.

Historic texts

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Historic texts

Yes

A version of the Greek text 'Archimedes Palimpsest' and all of Shakespeare’s sonnets have both been successfully archived in DNA.