Tag Archives: DNA

DNA as data storage

What’s the oldest data format in the world? It’s not any of the ones that computer engineers developed in the 20th century, or even ones that telegraph engineers created in the 19th. Far older than those — by billions of years — is the DNA nucleotide sequence. We can think of it as a simple base-4 encoding of arbitrary length.

DNA double helix According to the usual, somewhat simplified, description, a DNA molecule is a double helix, with its backbone made of phosphates and sugars, and four types of nucleotides forming the sequence. They are adenine, guanine, thymine, and cytosine, or A, G, T, and C for short. They’re always found in pairs connecting the two strands of the helix. Adenine and thymine connect together, as do guanine and cytosine.

DNA for data encoding

That’s as deep as I care to go, since biochemistry is far away from my areas of expertise. What DNA does is fantastically complicated; change of few bits and you can get a human or a chimpanzee. But as a data model, it’s fantastically simple.
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A closer look at DNA storage

A week ago, in my article “Data Storage Meets Biotech,” I wrote about work on DNA as a data storage medium. People on the Internet are getting wildly optimistic about it, talking about storing the entire Internet in a device that’s the size of a sugar cube and will last for centuries. Finding serious analysis is difficult.

DNA molecule representationFor most people, DNA is some kind of magic. The Fantastic Four gained their powers when space radiation altered their DNA. Barack Obama, in one of the most inappropriate metaphors in presidential history, said racism is “part of our DNA that’s passed on.” People want mandatory warning labels on food containing DNA. Finding knowledgeable discussion amid all the noise is difficult. I’m certainly no chemist; I started out majoring in chemistry, but fled soon after my first encounter with college-level lab work.
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