Scientists have found a way to preserve the world’s data for millions of years, by storing it on a tiny strand of DNA preserved in glass. When you think of humanity’s legacy, the most powerful message for us to leave behind for future civilisations would surely be our billions of terabytes of data. But right now the hard drives and discs that we use to store all this information are frustratingly vulnerable, and unlikely to survive more than a couple of hundred years. Fortunately scientists have built a DNA time capsule that’s capable of safely preserving all of our data for more than a million years. And we’re kind of freaking out over how huge the implications are.
Researchers already knew that DNA was ideal for data storage. In theory, just 1 gram of DNA is capable of holding 455 exabytes, which is the equivalent of one billion gigabytes, and more than enough space to store all of Google, Facebook and pretty much everyone else’s data. Storing information on DNA is also surprisingly simple – researchers just need to program the A and C base pairs of DNA as a binary ‘0’, and the T and G as a ‘1’. But the researchers, led by Robert Grass from ETH Zürich in Switzerland, wanted to find out just how long this data would last.
DNA can definitely be durable – in 2013 scientists managed to sequence genetic code from 700,000-year-old horse bones – but it has to be preserved in pretty specific conditions, otherwise it can change and break down as it’s exposed to the environment. So Glass’s team decided to try to replicate a fossil, to see if it would help them create a long-lasting DNA hard drive. “Similar to these bones, we wanted to protect the information-bearing DNA with a synthetic ‘fossil’ shell,” explained Grass in a press release. In order to do that, the team encoded Switzerland’s Federal Charter of 1921 and The Methods of Mechanical Theorems by Archimedes onto a DNA strand – a total of 83 kilobytes of data. They then encapsulated the DNA into tiny glass spheres, which were around 150 nanometres in diameter. Via A DNA hard drive has been built that can store data for 1 MILLION years