A, T, G, and C are the 0s and 1s of living things. Unlike the code stored in silicon, data stored in DNA won’t degrade for thousands of years. And DNA can just hold a lot more data— one gram of DNA can store one billion terabytes of data (approximately a kajillion iPods).
Now scientists at ETH Zurich have figured out how to store one of humanity’s great works in the inalterable medium of DNA: Massive Attack’s epic album Mezzanine, which came out on this date 20 years ago. The British trip hop duo’s masterpiece now lives inside 5,000 tiny glass beads, spread out over almost a million short DNA strands.
To squeeze data on DNA strands, it first has to be translated from binary (0s and 1s) to DNA’s four nucleotide bases (A, T, G, C). Then, researchers have to synthesize DNA molecules (a very complex process) that preserve that sequence perfectly. The sequences are then written onto those molecules. Once it’s dehydrated and stored under the right conditions, the molecules can last for thousands of years.
This isn’t the first time researchers have stored digital files in DNA; the Swiss scientists’ work comes in second place spot for the largest files stored in DNA (first place goes to Microsoft, after researchers managed to cram 200 megabytes — including a video from the band OK Go!, in HD — onto DNA).
Unfortunately, the process so far is very slow, and very expensive. But having Massive Attack’s masterpiece fully encoded in DNA will ensure that the future generations of cyber humanoids have some fresh 1998 beats to shimmy their appendages to.