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Scientists in Britain on Wednesday announced a breakthrough in the quest to turn DNA into a revolutionary form of data storage.
A speck of man-made DNA can hold mountains of data that can be freeze-dried, shipped and stored, potentially for thousands of years, they said.
The contents are "read" by sequencing the DNA — as is routinely done today, in genetic fingerprinting and so on — and turning it back into computer code.
"We already know that DNA is a robust way to store information because we can extract it from bones of woolly mammoths, which date back tens of thousands of years, and make sense of it," said Nick Goldman of the European Bioinformatics Institute (EBI) in Cambridge.
"It's also incredibly small, dense and does not need any power for storage, so shipping and keeping it is easy."
The project entails taking data in the form of zeros and 1s in computing's binary code, and transcribing it into "Base-3" code, which uses zeros, 1s and 2s.
The data is transcribed for a second time into DNA code, which is based on the A, C, G and T. A block of five letters is used for a single binary digit.
The letters are then turned into molecules, using lab-dish chemicals.