We've known DNA could be a viable solution for data storage for a while now, but Harvard researchers have just discovered how wildly efficient it could really be by fitting 5.5 petabits, or 700 terabytes, of data into just one gram of DNA.
The whole process is pretty simple, in theory at least. You just take your four bases, TGAC, and consider T and G to be 1s, while A and C are zeros. Then you encode your data, putting a 19-bit address at the front of each strand. That way, even if the strands are all jumbled together, you can get them in order once you've read them. This graphic from ExtremeTech sums up the process quite well.
By fitting a whopping 700 terabytes into a single gram, Harvard's George Church and Sri Kosuri have shattered previous records. For persepective that's over 600 million floppies or around 14,000 blue-rays. That's enough room to store about a million movies (by my shoddy calculation) though Church and Kosuri used it to store 70 billion copies of Church's most recent book.
There are, of course, caveats. First, DNA sequencing hardware isn't exactly something everybody's got just laying around. And second, retrieving all that data isn't exactly fast; the very latest tech will still take hours to sort this data out. Still, this isn't something you'd use for day-to-day storage. Instead, it looks like it'd be best for archiving. Just think about that for a second, soon we may be documenting our species' many triumphs in the very same material that defines who we are. Sort of poetic isn't it? Poetic and awesome. [Harvard via ExtremeTech]