DNA is good enough for storing the basic blueprints of life, so why not use it to store other things as well? Like, say, a couple hundred million hours of cat videos...
Don't throw out your flash drives just yet, but researchers at the EMBL-European Bioinformatics Institute have a study in Nature demonstrating the use of DNA to encode a number of digital media formats, including an .mp3 of Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech; a .jpg photo of the EMBL-EBI; and a .txt file of all of Shakespeare's sonnets.
Why DNA? For one thing, it's durable. As Nick Goldman, an EMBL-EBI researcher and author on the study, points out, the fact that scientists have recovered DNA from woolly mammoths dead for thousands of years shows that, given the right conditions, the material can long outlast current technologies like magnetic tape.
It's also compact. According to the researchers, a cup worth of DNA could store around 100 million hours of high-definition video. Try lugging that around on a conventional hard drive.
To test the system, the EMBL-EBI team had collaborators at Agilent encode various media files in DNA and mail it to them, whereupon they were able to read them successfully.
"We downloaded the files from the Web and used them to synthesize hundreds of thousands of pieces of DNA," says Agilent researcher Emily Leproust in a statement. "The result looks like a tiny piece of dust."