The electronic music album Mezzanine by Massive Attack is set to undergo storage in DNA molecules which will make it readable for millions of years. The encoding work will be conducted by scientists at a Swiss university, ETH Zurich. Per one of the scientists, Robert Grass, the DNA digital data storage technique will ensure that the album lasts almost forever.
“While the information stored on a CD or hard disk is a sequence of zeros and ones, biology stores genetic information in a sequence of the four building blocks of DNA: A, C, G and T,” Grass said.
Music compression format
In order to realize this the music compression format of Opus will be used to cut the album down to 15 MB. The data will then be split into fragments numbering 920,000 and these will be encoded in a DNA strand. The DNA will then be poured into glass beads in a process that is expected to take a maximum of two months.
This is not the first time that DNA data storage is being explored. The University of Washington and Microsoft have for instance been collaborating with the aim of advancing the technology which might one day become an alternative to other storage method such as optical disks and conventional hard drives. Besides maintaining the integrity of data held therein almost forever without any loss of quality if stored in the right conditions, DNA storage also comes with the advantage of having a bigger capacity as it can hold vast amounts of data at incredible density.
Proof of concept
The idea though has been in the stage of proof of concept for years though and only modest amounts of information have been stored so far. Six years ago researchers at Harvard Medical School managed to store a digital book in DNA. In 2013 739 kilobytes of text, images and sound were stored in DNA by the European Bioinformatics Institute.
Some of the hurdles facing DNA data storage include the fact that the costs of encoding data in DNA is excessively high. Additionally it’s not easy to rewrite once written and the technology used to read back the data so stored is slow. However there has been progress as the costs are coming down and the technology of reading back the data is getting faster. The technology could be especially useful for storage important material that is not regularly accessed or modified and this could forestall a data storage crisis that is looming.