Having trouble with iCloud? Confused by CrashPlan? Today’s smart tech consumers are getting ready to purchase the sturdiest backup media of all: human DNA. The mad scientists behind a weird new study say that the double helix of genetic code has been successfully used to store all kinds of documents, including audio files and text of Shakespeare’s sonnets and “a picture of their office,” because most of what we digitally save is silly garbage. (Future archeologists will likely be baffled by the discovery of, say, a flash drive holding nothing but hundreds of weirdly filtered pictures of somebody’s entrée with a glass of wine in the background. “These early humans apparently worshiped platters of ornately arranged kale and pork loin in a sea urchin-cream sauce,” they’ll say, in Binary iOS Korean-Farsi.)
DNA is a great system for holding garbage information forever. Our own DNA is 97% “junk,” which is exactly the percentage of useless information stored on the average computer or phone.
DNA is nature’s hard drive, a permanent record of genetic information written in a chemical language. There are just four letters in DNA’s alphabet—the four nucleotides commonly abbreviated as A, C, G and T. When these letters are arranged in different ways, they spell out different instructions for our cells. Some 3 billion of those letters make up the human genome—the entire instruction manual for our existence. And all that information is stuffed into each cell in our bodies. DNA is millions of times more compact than the hard drive in your computer.
The scientists transferred digital files to DNA and sent the test tubes to a biotech company, where the information was extracted and found to be “100 percent intact and accurate.” Within the decade, the price for such storage and retrieval is expected to plummet from the current $12,000 per megabyte. By then, the researchers claim, people will begin storing all kinds of life events on strands of DNA, including “wedding videos.” Perhaps the most terrifying idea of all is that the “junk DNA” that makes up 97% of our genetic code is actually wedding videos from a long-dead race of insectoid alien monsters who sent billions of their own DNA storage modules floating through space to inseminate the universe.
Also, “George Church, a geneticist at Harvard who helped start the Human Genome Project, encoded an HTML file of his latest book into DNA earlier this year.” Congratulations, George, you’re a Kindle!