Data Stored in DNA — The Final Bridge Between Man and Machine?

It's not just for solving cold cases anymore; DNA may one day be the most effective data storage device.
It’s not just for solving cold cases anymore; DNA may one day be the most effective data storage device.

We all have witnessed the miniaturization of technology in the last decade.  While watching devices with enormous amounts of computing power shrink down into things that we can carry around in her pockets, one of the most fascinating examples of this is data storage.  Flash drives that so many people are carrying around on their key chains these days are capable of storing amounts of data that just a decade ago a full-size mechanical hard disk could only dream of.  Just recently, a terabyte flash drive was introduced, no larger than the run-of-the-mill 8 or 16 gigabyte variety.  All this is pretty spectacular to behold, but scientists at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory believe that the final frontier for data storage may be inside of our very bodies.  Enter the world of DNA data storage.

DNA technology has changed the world, and the eerie similarity between DNA and the way computers and machines store data led some scientists to wonder if DNA, the building blocks of life, could not be useful as a data storage carrier itself.  So far, scientists have used synthetically created DNA to store an MP3 music file, a JPEG image, a PDF file, and every sonnet composed by William Shakespeare.  Okay, it’s impressive that they found a way to do this, but that’s hardly on the same competition level with devices today.  But that’s all about to change, according to Nick Goldman at the EMBL.  As a matter of fact, he believes that DNA’s storage capacity may dwarf even the terabyte flash drive in the future one day.  And BluRay discs for that matter.  Goldman believes that DNA could make storage capacity an extinct term.  After all, all of the things we listed above were stored in DNA, but altogether, it wasn’t even the size of a speck of dust.  It’s easy to see how a device like a flash drive could be filled with millions of these, bringing about storage capacities unheard of and yet smaller than ever imagined, even in science fiction.  As a matter of fact, it is believed that an HD-quality version of every television program and movie ever made could be stored effectively in a cup of DNA.

Another advantage to this new technology is that the data could be stored for indefinite amounts of time.  Think about it.  Scientists extract DNA from the bones of extinct species from thousands of years ago, finding it perfectly intact.  Once it is understood how to use it correctly, the data would be safe for times so long that it might be just as easy to say forever.

DNA extracted from bones of the wooly mammoth have survived thousands of years intact, despite being buried in the ground.
DNA extracted from bones of the wooly mammoth have survived thousands of years intact, despite being buried in the ground.

Of course, in conspiracy circles, this brings up some interesting possibilities.  With so many people believing that the government intends to install microchips in our bodies, it’s easy to see why this revelation might make some people uneasy.  Could this be the final bridge between man and machine?  And what does it tell us that the most effective way to store data is already naturally occurring and inside our very bodies?

Others take it a step farther, saying that such findings only show that there is something more to DNA than we are seeing.  Could there be data stored in our very DNA from a super-intelligent race that lived before us encoded there to one day be discovered?  Many people believe that there is some sort of code to it all that will explain our origins.  Could this put us one step farther to understanding what DNA is really all about and what it means in the grand scheme of things?  And for Christians and other faiths, is DNA really the closest we can come to understanding God?

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