Well, just like we’re used to storing information in computer, where inside computer it’s stored as a series of zeros and ones in a binary code, we realize that we can write a computer program that would read zeros and ones in any file on our computer disk drive and convert that into a language which uses just the letters A, C, G and T. And we chose that, because those four letters are what is used to represent the basis of D.N.A. sequences, just like in human genome or any living organism. We’ve also made a code that can create this sequence of A, C, G and T – machines can actually make the physical D.N.A. that corresponds to that code.
What kind of size are we talking about?
It’s incredibly small. In the experiment we did, we stored almost 1 Mbit of files from the hard disc drive of computer. And that came in a test tube half the size of your little finger. And I thought that it was empty, it’s a tiny speck of white dust at the bottom of the test tube.
What could we use this technology for?
The thing that’s really good about DNA is that it lasts very long time in a very stable form and you don’t need to give any special condition to do that. You keep it cool and dry and in the dark – it’ll survive unaltered for tens of thousands of years. So if you’re thinking about a long-term archive of really important information like the Library of Alexandria, which didn’t have a backup, unfortunately, that’s the kind of application where we might be able to put it in D.N.A. and save it for a really long time.
So you’ve already encoded Shakespeare’s sonnets and speech by Martin Luther King. Would I be able to store personal information, like my favorite films or photos in my own D.N.A?
I wouldn’t advise you to put it in your own D.N.A. We’re using synthetic D.N.A. that’s completely different code to that of living organisms. But in our code you could write into synthetic D.N.A. the film or your MP3 collection or anything you want – it would however be very expensive at today’s prices.
And how long will this kind of information last?
It’d last for 10,000, 20,000 or 50,000 years if you keep it safe.