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LOL! Cat photo data stored in DNA molecules

Image: DNA in test tube
All the movies, images and other data from more than 600 basic smartphones (10 terabytes) can be stored in the pink smear of DNA at the end of this test tube. (Credit: Tara Brown Photography / UW)

Researchers at the University of Washington and Microsoft are developing a digital storage system that can archive data in DNA molecules, with the random-access readability and error correction protocols that’d be required for real-world applications.

Once they’ve overcome those hurdles, they just have to figure out how to make the technology affordable. Eventually, such research could help open the way for data storage devices that can pack information millions of times more tightly than current silicon-based methods.

“Life has produced this fantastic molecule called DNA that efficiently stores all kinds of information about your genes and how a living system works — it’s very, very compact and very durable,” Luis Ceze, UW associate professor of computer science and engineering, said in a news release. “We’re essentially repurposing it to store digital data — pictures, videos, documents — in a manageable way for hundreds or thousands of years.”

Ceze and his colleagues describe their work in a paper presented this week in Atlanta at the ACM International Conference on Architectural Support for Programming Languages and Operating Systems, or ASPLOS.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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