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DNA Stores Book And Pictures Within Its Sequence

Next-generation DNA sequencing stores and reads more than 5 megabits of data

by Celia Henry Arnaud
August 20, 2012 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 90, Issue 34

DNA synthesis and sequencing have been used to encode, store, and retrieve more than 5 megabits of data. This is the largest amount of nonbiological data stored to date within the sequence of this biological molecule (Science, DOI: 10.1126/science.1226355). Sriram Kosuri and George M. Church of Harvard Medical School and the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, working with Yuan Gao of Johns Hopkins University, used commercially available DNA synthesis and sequencing methods to capture an HTML version of a book with 53,426 words, 11 JPEG images, and one JavaScript program. They converted computer bits into a DNA sequence by substituting the nucleobases adenine or cytosine for 0s and thymine or guanine for 1s. They synthesized the resulting DNA sequence as a series of 159-nucleotide oligomers, each containing a 96-nucleotide data block, a 19-nucleotide address bar code, and 22-nucleotide sequences at both ends for amplification and sequencing. Using a commercial DNA sequencer, the researchers recovered all data blocks with only 10 errors in a total of 5.27 million bits. The current speed of writing and reading data makes the method more appropriate for long-term archival storage than for short-term storage, the researchers note.


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