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From Music Video to Seed Data

Researchers from Microsoft and the University of Washington have encoded the band OK Go's Rube Goldberg-esque music video in DNA for storage, according to Microsoft Research.

Microsoft's Karin Strauss tells the Verge that they chose an OK Go video because "they're very innovative and are bringing different things from different areas into their field, and we feel we are doing something very similar."

The video is just part of what the researchers stored in DNA. In total, the team encoded some 200 megabytes of data in DNA, and that also included the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in a number of languages, some 100 books from Project Guttenberg — including War and Peace — and the Crop Trust's seed database.

This and other efforts — earlier this year, ETH Zurich researchers led by Robert Grass said they'd encoded Archimedes' The Methods of Mechanical Theorems in DNA and in 2012, George Church and his colleagues reported they'd written a 50,000-word book in DNA — seek to show that DNA is a viable long-term data storage device. According to Technology Review, IDC estimates that the total amount of storage digital data will reach 16 trillion gigabytes some time next year. Magnetic tape is currently the long-term storage device of choice, but it only has a lifespan of a few decades, Tech Review notes. By contrast, DNA can last hundreds of thousands of years.

However, making custom DNA is expensive. While Tech Review notes that Microsoft didn't disclose what it spend on the project, it says Twist Biosciences, the company the researchers engaged to synthesize their DNA, usually charges 10 cents a base.

UW's Luis Henrique Ceze and Microsoft's Strauss tell the Verge that the cost is dropping quickly. "We don't see any fundamental reason why it can't be much, much cheaper and much, much faster," Ceze adds.