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By Nick Wakeman

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Nick Wakeman

Is DNA the next big thing in tech?

A few years ago, my wife and I went to a Smithsonian Institute exhibit on early Bibles.

The exhibit was as much about the technology of books as it was about theology and religion because these were some of the first books to be in, well, book form. Previously, the technology was scrolls.

But books were revolutionary because of their portability and ease of use. If you wanted to skip a chapter or refer back to a certain passage, you had to roll and re-roll the scroll.

What I remember most about these books is that most of them were over 1,000 years old, but you could still read the ancient Greek and Latin they were written in.

Paper remains the only storage device today that anyone can say with any confidence will last 1,000 years.

But that might be changing.

Harvard University researchers have used DNA molecules to digitally store the contents of a book. A million copies of the book fit into a test tube. “A device the size of your thumb could store as much information as the whole Internet,” George Church, the project’s senior research, told the Wall Street Journal

DNA-encoded information can be stored in a viscous liquid or solid salt, and would last for centuries.

It’ll likely take years before a commercial product is available, but the potential is great.

I’m not sure if this will be a lucrative business opportunity, but any agency with long-term data storage needs could benefit from this type of technology. Think about the challenges currently faced by the National Archives and Records Administration or the IRS.

At the very least, the technology has the potential to replace tape back up systems with smaller and probably more energy-efficient devices using DNA.

I’m sure that one day there will be a museum exhibit with hard-drives and floppy disks. People will marvel at the ancient technology, but they won’t be able to read it.

Posted by Nick Wakeman on Aug 17, 2012 at 9:53 AM

Reader Comments

Mon, Aug 20, 2012 C

Years ago, DNA computing was demonstated. The particular example was a 50 node traveling salesman problem. It is impossible to always find a solution in a reasonable time, if you let a reasonable time be the lifetime of the universe. With DNA, the answer came back in the time it took to synthesize and read the DNA. The trick was that every potential solution could be synthesized and only one would match the problem. This was 15 years ago and I have heard nothing about it since.

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