Using DNA for data storage

Scientists have figured out how to use DNA for data storage, by storing the data in ternary format (zeros, ones, and twos) rather than binary (ones and zeros) like typical computers.  This isn’t just theoretical…they stored and retrieved an audio recording of Martin Luther King, and other information as well.  This has the potential to store massive amounts of data in a very compact space for long periods of time…it’ll be interesting to see how this technology is applied in the coming years.  Read more here.

This does make me wonder though…if we can manipulate DNA to this level…do we then have the potential to create new forms of life?  We’re a long ways away from understanding the entire DNA code and being able to ‘program’ a new strand of DNA to do something, but that won’t stop people from trying.

DNA photographed

Using some cool trickery with silicon nanopillars and an electron microscope, scientists in Italy managed to photograph and actual strand of DNA, including the closeup image below where you can start to make out the double helix structure.  Impressive work!

You can read more about it in The Atlantic.

Bad news for dinosaur fans

If you watched Jurassic Park and thought, “wow, wouldn’t it be cool if we actually COULD recreate dinosaurs like that” (and let’s be honest, who DIDN’T think that), then I have bad news for you.  Nature reports that researchers have found the bonds between nucleotides in DNA break down over time.  Pretty quickly, too…the half-life of DNA is about 521 years (after 521 years, half of the bonds have been broken; another 521 years and half the remaining bonds have been broken, and so on).

The bright spot here is that scientists reached this conclusion by analyzing a very specific set of bones…so there’s perhaps a chance that bones preserved in some different environment may yield usable DNA.  It’s not looking too likely though.

If you hope to have a pet dinosaur someday, it looks like your best bet may be to follow the works of Jack Horner, who wants to engineer modern-day dinosaurs (aka ‘birds’) to gradually undo millions of years of evolution:

Nearly Instantaneous DNA Analysis

Scientists and engineers at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory have managed to vastly decrease the time required to analyze DNA samples, by accelerating the process whereby samples are amplified for analysis.  This is expected to lead to a 5-10 minute DNA test cycle, which is a huge improvement over the hours or days it takes now.


So how will this affect you?  The example in the article at says it best, so I’ll just quote it here:


Picture this: You’ve brought your sick child to the doctor’s office. After checking her pulse and blood pressure, he takes a nasal or throat swab and inserts it into a mysterious black box. Before the doctor finishes his examination, the black box beeps, indicating that the pathogen that’s making your child sick has been identified.


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