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Scientists use DNA to store everyday data in profound breakthrough

Ladies and gentlemen, scrape up your jaws from the floor – we have passed through the looking glass and into an extraordinary now that turns science fiction inside out. Where once we were astonished by our ability to store data in exponentially shrinking fragments of magnetic tape, we have now moved into the mind boggling realms of coded DNA storage.

Scientists have used artificially generated DNA to store an mp3, a jpeg photo, a pdf file, part of Martin Luther King’s seminal ‘I Have a Dream’ speech - a pdf of Watson and Crick's DNA research paper and every single last sonnet by William Shakespeare.

The digital revolution was based on encoding data in 1’s and 0’s and created representations of reality through such a stunningly simple code. DNA coding works in a similar way using four key elements, defined by scientists as the letters G,A,C and T which represent the order of organic nucleotides. Taking that information principle from one of nature’s most profound mysteries, scientists at Agilent Technologies Inc in California wove a revolutionary new strand of synthetic DNA through an original sequence of those ‘letters’. The information was then immediately re-accessed with flawless accuracy.

Taking to the pages of the hugely respected Nature magazine, the researchers noted not only that huge volumes of data could be stored in DNA for many thousands of years, but that no electricity is required for the storage process.

The cost of such a system is astronomical for the moment, but this is the day ground was broken in a new data revolution. Every film and TV programme ever made could be stored in HD quality in just one cupful of DNA.

Yet again the cutting edge of science has turned to the organic wonders of nature’s elegant complexities to push the human experience and the frontiers of possibility further. The implications let alone the symbolism are breathtaking.

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