DNA storage and possible outcomes

Article about a geneticist encoding his book onto DNA. What other uses could be done with this technology? Would this be available to everyone in the future? Thanks!

This is not really a “use” at all, more like a publicity stunt, both for his book and, probably more importantly, to show off how good and quick they now are at DNA synthesis (compared to how laborious it was in the past)

DNA synthesis is useful in research, and maybe, one day, it will be used for making artificial genes, or something like that, but it is not likely ever to be a useful medium for general information storage. Sure, in principle you could encode any information, such as books, into DNA, but I can’t really think of any circumstances where it would be useful to do so. It is not going to preserve the information very well (because there are lots of ways a DNA structure can get damaged) and, even if the technology improves considerably, it is never going to be particularly quick or easy either to encode the information in the first place, or to read it back out again: not even compared to data storage techniques we have available to the public now (like hard drives, or DVDs), let alone others that are being developed.

The reason I thought that this would be something revolutionary is because of a few quotes from the article.

“You can drop it wherever you want, in the desert or your backyard, and it will be there 400,000 years later,”

While the scale is roughly what a 5 ¼-inch floppy disk once held, the density of the bits is nearly off the charts: 5.5 petabits, or 1 million gigabits, per cubic millimeter.

Sounds cool, but I guess too much work to be efficient?

I have no idea where they get the idea that the DNA would remain un-degraded 400,000 years later.

We have genomic DNA lying around in fridges everywhere for 10+ years but we’d never trust something that has been sitting on our benchtops for more than a few days. At least not in any lab I’ve ever worked in.

I agree that this is a primarily a publicity stunt, but I know some of the researchers involved and at least one of them thinks this might really be useful in the future. It illustrates both the remarkable advances in nucleic acid synthesis and in next-generation sequencing.

Since it uses only a handful of atoms per bit, it wins in information storage per unit mass or per unit volume. It can survive a lot of degradation, because each snippet carries its own address and can be present in multiple copies for redundancy.

Since it is hard to imagine that the time and expense of reading and writing the bits will ever compete with electronic methods, the only application that occurs to me is communicating across galactic distances, since rocket travel places such an enormous premium on the mass of the payload. This only makes sense for distances in which electromagnetic communication is even more impractical. Of course, this leaves unsolved the problem of explaining to the aliens how to decode the message and encode the reply.