Storing data as artificial DNA

Published: Saturday 15 February 2003

in the famous television series Dark Angel, a colossal electromagnetic pulse wipes out the entire electronic infrastructure of the us. Perhaps this series has inspired us scientists to devise a new type of memory, that too within living organisms. "Protection of information is a must in case of a nuclear catastrophe. Therefore, we developed the technique," says Pak Chung Wong, information technologist at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Washington dc, usa. The laboratory was initially set up as a nuclear energy research institute.

The scientists took the words of the song It's a Small World and translated it into a code, based on the four letters of the dna. Then they created artificial dna strands. These were inserted into bacteria such as Deinococcus radiourans. The beginning and end of each message had special dna tags. These prevent the bacteria from destroying the message, which it would have in the case of an invading virus.

But Huw Williams, a bacteriologist at London-based Imperial College says that mutations may change the message. The researchers refute this by saying that bacteria like D radiourans are good at repairing any mutations. Moreover, they can tolerate high temperatures, ultraviolet light and ionising radiation.

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