Data And DNA: Encoding Digital Files Into Genetic Material Creates Serious Storage Space

Humanity is accruing data at an unprecedented rate.  All those Tweets, tags, photos, cat videos, terrible novels, decent screenplays, drafts of terrible novels that might eventually become decent screenplays, and everything else we shoot, snap, sing, strum, or smash into a computer is adding up.  There's the possibility of etching literary works into crystals, sure, but what about those of us who need some somewhat-simpler storage?  A new answer might surprise you...because it's also PART of you...

It's just like burning a CD...into genes.
(Image courtesy

According to UW Today, a team from the University Of Washington has successfully coded - and then extracted - digital image data onto molecules of DNA.  Created by a team comprised of computer scientists and electrical engineers, their new system makes data storage literally millions of times more compact than current stacks of servers or other storage facilities.

One experiment elucidated by the team involved encoding 4 digital image files into synthetic DNA nucleotide sequences.  These images were then retrieved from a larger pool of DNA, amazingly without losing a byte of data.

It's a mashup of two of the best sciences.
Take it into space for the trifecta!
(Image courtesy

Luis Ceze, one of the co-authors of the team's paper and a UW associate professor of computer science and engineering, explained, “Life has produced this fantastic molecule called DNA that efficiently stores all kinds of information about your genes and how a living system works — it’s very, very compact and very durable...We’re essentially repurposing it to store digital data — pictures, videos, documents — in a manageable way for hundreds or thousands of years.”

Not to mention, if we keep up producing data at the rate that we do, we're going to REQUIRE something of the nature that the UW team has devised.  With human data production expected to consume some 44 trillion gigabytes by 2020 (a tenfold increase from 2013), we'll want some kind of vast storage method that's more durable than our current chips.  By the way, those 44 trillion gigabytes, in current visual terms, would be six stacks of computer tablets reaching to the moon.

By comparison, if encoded into DNA,
the entire internet could feasibly fit on a thumb drive.
(Image courtesy

The 1s and 0s of the digital data are chopped up and encoded into the As, Ts, Gs and Cs of DNA data, which can be dehydrated for archival storage.  Using gene-sequencing techniques, the data can be recalled via a sort of "zip code" attached to it, enabling reconstruction even from a large pool of material.  Error correction techniques currently used in computer science help to prevent data loss.

"Detective, some of this blood could have the murderer's confession embedded in it!"
-"Reverse-sequence it!  We'll decode the perp in no time!"
(Image courtesy

While this method is currently somewhat cost-prohibitive, the technology is there.  Someday, your family photos may be encoded onto strings of DNA similar to your family tree!  And who knows what else might be lurking in the data-rich depths of DNA science...

By the way, speaking of lots of data, aGupieWare is celebrating our 1000th article!  Thanks to everyone who enjoys reading and learning from our work...we're howling into the void without you!  We intend to keep you informed into the future, whatever that may entail...please continue to enjoy our articles, and please share your new wisdom far and wide!

We're not encoded into your DNA yet, but we're getting there.
(Image courtesy


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  2. Researchers have developed one of the first complete systems to store digital data in DNA -- allowing companies to store data that today would fill a big box store supercenter in a space the size of a sugar cube.

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