Scientists create a 'synthetic fossil' containing data written in DNA and capable of being preserved for thousands of years. Matthew Stock reports.
Much of the world's information is stored on vast computer servers. But data banks like these need constant maintenance, while all storage devices have a limited lifespan. Scientists from ETH Zurich have devised a method for storing data, potentially for thousands of years - by using DNA. To demonstrate, a vial like this contains the ancient text "The Methods of Mechanical Theorems" by Archimedes written into DNA. Instead of letters, spaces and numbers they translated the text into a sequence of nucleotides, the building blocks of DNA. To store the DNA so that it won't degrade, the team were inspired by fossils that can protect genetic material inside. (SOUNDBITE) (English) DR. ROBERT GRASS, SENIOR SCIENTIST AT ETH ZURICH'S DEPARTMENT OF CHEMISTRY AND APPLIED BIOSCIENCES, SAYING: "(The) fascination of having this very, very extremely old information - a hundred thousand years, older than anything else we know or humanity knows - in DNA. So it kind of tells us that it's a really stable material which can endure nature or the environment for a very long time." They built a synthetic 'fossil' shell made from a microscopic silica glass particle with a diameter just over the width of a human hair. Inside each of these is the encoded DNA, protected from the outside enviroment. By using a fluoride solution, the DNA can then be easily separated from the glass so the information can be read. Researchers say storing mankind's collective knowledge in a sprinkling of synthetic DNA could mean information security for future generations. (SOUNDBITE) (English) DR. ROBERT GRASS, SENIOR SCIENTIST AT ETH ZURICH'S DEPARTMENT OF CHEMISTRY AND APPLIED BIOSCIENCES, SAYING: "If you, for example, think of a tablespoon filled with DNA; that would include all of the information on Facebook and Wikipedia and Twitter - and all that just in that small heap of DNA... In that tablespoon you would have everything very stable in a very small space with a guaranteed stability for a very long time." The cost of manufacturing DNA with information encoded inside remains very expensive. The team believes investment from governments and large corporations will be needed to make it a reality.