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article imageComputer operating system and movie stored on DNA

By Tim Sandle     Mar 4, 2017 in Technology
San Fransisco - An algorithm built for streaming video on a cellphone has been used to unlock DNA's storage potential. This was achieved by squeezing information into its four base nucleotides. In a study, researchers show the reliability of DNA computing technology.
Earlier this year scientists from the University of Manchester created a new DNA-based computing device. While deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) is generally associated with the code for generating life it is also as capable of performing other tasks, like computing. The potential power from such biological-technological interfaces is considerable: a device that uses DNA molecules can grow more of itself to perform many calculations simultaneously, potentially without limit. In parallel, technologists have been looking into how compacting the genetic code into such a structure could be used with the design of computer chips. Here, as Digital Journal has reported, DNA has been used as a scaffold and then assemble other materials on the DNA to form electronics.
In a new development, scientists at Columbia University and the New York Genome Center have shown that an algorithm designed for streaming video on a cellphone has the capability to unlock DNA's nearly full storage potential. The reason why this carries many possibilities is because DNA is an ideal storage medium. It is ultra-compact and it will last hundreds of thousands of years, provided it is is kept at the appropriate cool storage conditions.
With the breakthrough, Professor Yaniv Erlich has encoded the following digital information onto DNA:
A full computer operating system.
A 1895 French film called "Arrival of a train at La Ciotat."
A $50 Amazon gift card.
A computer virus.
A Pioneer plaque.
An 1948 study by information theorist Claude Shannon.
To achieve this the researchers compressed the files into a master file. From this the data was split into short strings of binary code. An erasure-correcting algorithm termed fountain codes was then used to randomly package the strings into 'droplets'. The researchers then mapped the ones and zeros in each droplet to the four nucleotide bases in DNA: A, G, C and T. The algorithm proceeded to delete letter combinations known to create errors, and added a barcode to each droplet (this was necessary for retrieving the files). In total a digital list of 72,000 DNA strands, each 200 bases long, was generated.
A medical research lab
The data was then sent as a text file to a San Francisco DNA-synthesis startup, Twist Bioscience, that specializes in turning digital data into biological data. Within two-weeks the company produced a vial holding the DNA molecules encoded with the data. Being biological, it proved very straightforward to make multiple copies of the DNA containing the information through the use of PCR. Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) is a technique used in molecular biology to amplify a single copy or a few copies of a piece of DNA across several orders of magnitude.
This itself is a remarkable feat. The big test, though, was whether the information could be retrieved. This was undertaken successfully using modern sequencing technology to read the DNA strands. After reading software was used to translate the genetic code back into binary. The trial was successful and paves the way for further studies. At present the major limitation to the commercialization of the process is cost. The single study was in the region of $10,000.
The research has been published in the journal Science, under the title "DNA Fountain enables a robust and efficient storage architecture."
In related news, Digital Journal reported last year on how MIT researchers discovered a way to automate the DNA making process. This is based on an algorithm called DAEDALUS (DNA Origami Sequence Design Algorithm for User-defined Structures). This algorithm helps to build nano-particles of various shapes.
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