Hard disks and optical drives store gigabits of digital data at the press of a button. But those technologies—like the magnetic tapes and floppy drives before them—are apt to become antiquated and unreadable when they are overtaken by new technology. Now, researchers have come up with a way to electronically write data into the DNA of living bacteria, a storage option unlikely to go obsolete any time soon.
“This is a really nice step” that might one day spur commercial development, says Seth Shipman, a bioengineer at the Gladstone Institutes and the University of California, San Francisco, who was not involved in the new work. He notes, however, that real-world applications are a long way off.
DNA is attractive for data storage for several reasons. First, it is more than 1000 times as dense as the most compact hard drives, enabling it to store the equivalent of 10 full-length digital movies within the volume of a grain of salt. And because DNA is central to biology, the technologies to read and write it are expected to become cheaper and more powerful with time.