DNA Gets an Artificial Upgraded to Hold Humanity's Limitless Digital Data
By: April Carson
In the last several years, humanity has produced more data than in all of history combined, a stunning amount of output with no indications of slowing down. But where are we going to store it all? Our current data storage solutions are quickly reaching their limits.
Despite scientists' efforts to keep pace with humanity's ever-increasing data, some experts believe that these initiatives will eventually be outpaced by the accelerating speed at which we create data. To address such concerns, researchers have been investigating a rather unusual solution: storing files, photographs, and documents on nature's own information database: DNA.
DNA is large and compact enough to contain an infinite quantity of data in the tiniest spaces. After all, our bodies' complete blueprints are safeguarded by the double helix strands, which are only 10 micrometers wide and tucked inside cell nuclei. DNA is also naturally plentiful and can survive extremely harsh environments on Earth. Scientists have already proved that DNA dating back hundreds or even thousands of years might be recovered.
"Every day, hundreds of petabytes of data are created on the internet. Only one gram of DNA would be enough to preserve that information. The density of DNA as a storage medium is how packed it is," said Kasra Tabatabaei, a researcher at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology, according to a press release.
Tabatabaei is the co-author of a new study, published in the current edition of Nano Letters, that may well push DNA data storage technology to new heights. The study team is the first to artificially extend the DNA alphabet, which may enable for huge data storage capacities and a rather significant level of digital information.
Let's start with a quick overview of the biological process. The DNA molecule, which consists of four molecules called nucleotides, encodes genetic information.
Adenine, guanine, cytosine, and thymine are the four nucleotides in this sequence. In some respects, DNA is a four-letter alphabet with distinct letter combinations corresponding to various data bytes.
Nature can encode the genetic information of every living being using just these four letters. So theoretically speaking, we should be able to store an abundance of digital data with this crew of letters as well. But what if we had a larger alphabet? That's presumably going to enhance our capacity significantly.
A team of scientists from the University of Cambridge and Microsoft Research in Cambridge, UK, believe they've found a way to do just that. They have successfully increased the number of letters in the DNA alphabet from four to six, without compromising the efficiency or accuracy of data storage.
The researchers behind this new study, then, artificially tacked on seven extra letters to the DNA language. "Imagine if you only had four letters in your alphabet," Tabatabaei stated. You'd be able to make a limited number of words with that restriction. If you had access to the whole alphabet, you could construct an infinite amount of combinations. That's similar with DNA: rather than using zeros and ones to encode A, G, C, and T, we may use them to represent A, G, C, T, and the seven additional symbols in storage alphabet."
Furthermore, to guarantee that the information encoded in these eleven letters can be recited on command, the researchers developed a novel technique for precisely reading back the synthetic DNA's data. The technology employs deep-learning algorithms and artificial intelligence to distinguish between human-made and natural DNA letters as well as identify everything from one another using artificial intelligence and deep learning techniques.
Overall, it displays a very clear readout of the DNA's letter combinations, revealing any and all information hidden within.
"We tested 77 unique combinations of the 11 nucleotides, and our technique was able to correctly distinguish each of them," says Chao Pan, a graduate student at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and co-author on this research. "The deep learning architecture underlying our method for identifying different nucleotides is broad enough that it may be used in many other applications."
The idea of holding our compounded data in DNA isn't the only cutting-edge, inventive approach. A Harvard University research team is developing a system that uses neon dyes to encode important information. Still, Tabatabaei stated, "DNA is nature's original data storage mechanism." "Anything," he added.
The possibilities for data storage are endless, which is why it's important to have a variety of methods at our disposal. The more options we have, the better our chances of preserving humanity's accumulated knowledge in the event of a catastrophe. With DNA, we've added an incredibly durable option to our arsenal.
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About the Blogger:
April Carson is the daughter of Billy Carson. She received her bachelor's degree in Social Sciences from Jacksonville University, where she was also on the Women's Basketball team. She now has a successful clothing company that specializes in organic baby clothes and other items. Take a look at their most popular fall fashions on bossbabymav.com
To read more of April's blogs, check out her website! She publishes new blogs on a daily basis, including the most helpful mommy advice and baby care tips! Follow on IG @bossbabymav
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