Saffron's Space

A little while ago scientists achieved a pretty amazing fete: they managed to encode pictures, PDFs, even a book into something so small you can’t see it-DNA.

I think it helps to write and enjoy science fiction when you have at least a small grasp of scientific concepts. I took that a step further and did a biomedical degree, and one of the greatest things about the whole field is that it’s always evolving.

At first glance it seems like an impossible task and the implications make the mind run wild. DNA can last for millennia given the right conditions (and for centuries even under the wrong conditions!). It will always be relevant and readable (unlike VHS, DVDs and USBs), and think of the storage capacity! With just a small stretch of the imagination I can picture walking into a ‘DNA rental’ shop to hire out the latest movie- just pour the DNA into your reader and up it comes on the screen… OK, OK, that might be a little farfetched but it’s closer than you’d think.

DNA

This new advancement is based on the fact that both computer programs, and DNA are in essence quite simple. All computer storage, programs etc. are based on a binary code, that is, a series of ones and zeros. The sequence of these ones and zeroes tells the computer what to do (mind-blowing isn’t it?). Similarly, DNA is made up of 4 proteins (for simplicity we’ll call them A,C,G and T). These proteins are lined up in a sequence and the order in which they appear determines what your body produces (and looks like!).

So, these clever scientists have basically said ‘well A and C =0 and G and T=1’. They have then taken the binary code of the book (or image etc.) and created a DNA chain that matches that sequence (based on the translation of A/C=0 and G/T=1). For those of you not in the know, yes we can make DNA chains now, in whatever sequence is needed really (the future is nigh!).

Anyway, once the DNA chain is created it can be decoded (“DNA sequencing”), to get the DNA sequence which can then be converted back to the binary code of computers.

So you can see how the data can easily be moved from one form to the other and back again. The possibilities are endless although at this time the cost of creating and sequencing the DNA is limiting. But in the not so far-off future I think that DNA-movie store will be a reality.

Read more about it here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2012/aug/16/book-written-dna-code

One related scientific paper can be found here: http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.1226355

What do you think of these new breakthroughs? What can you envisage in the future?

DNA image curtsey of mstroeck at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:DNA_Overview2.png



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