DNA storage makes it possible to hide data in any object
A successful scientific experiment shows that it is possible to store data in the form of synthetic DNA in any everyday object. In the distant future, this method could even allow machines to self-replicate thanks to 3D printing …
Faced with the massive increase in the volume of data generated by humanity , it becomes urgent to find new storage methods that are more durable, less cumbersome and less energy-hungry. One of the most promising alternatives is that of DNA storage , which many researchers are working on.
This is about storing data in the form of synthetic DNA, simply drawing inspiration from the way information is stored in nature . DNA has the major advantage of allowing large amounts of information to be stored in a very condensed manner.
Today, a group of researchers from ETH Zurich, Switzerland, and Israeli and American scientists announce in the journal Nature Biotechnology that they have successfully stored DNA data in 3D printed objects. First, the team synthesized DNA molecules encoding the plans for the “Stanford Bunny” : a rabbit-shaped object commonly used to test computer graphics.
In order to protect them, the molecules were integrated into small particles of silica . These particles were then mixed with a type of plastic called polycaprolactone. This material is often used for 3D printing. From this DNA-containing plastic, the researchers printed the Stanford Bunny.
Subsequently, they wanted to check if they were able to replicate the rabbit from the stored DNA . To do this, they took a sample of the object, extracted DNA from the plastic and silica using chemicals, and sequenced the DNA. The information extracted has indeed made it possible to manufacture new rabbits.
DNA storage: machines soon able to self-replicate?
Experience therefore shows that the data has been preserved without degradation. According to Yaniv Erlich, Associate Professor at the University of Colombia, in the United States, one of the main researchers of the project, “the data could be kept for several decades or more”. According to scientists’ calculations, it would be possible to replicate rabbits more than a square of times without damaging the data.
Until now, DNA data has been stored in test tubes . However, this study shows that it is possible to store DNA in everyday objects. In parallel, the researchers also successfully encoded a video file in the form of synthetic DNA and integrated it into a pair of glasses.
This success opens up many perspectives. For example, it would be possible to store information about medical implants directly in these implants. Erlich also imagines the possibility of storing photos in the buttons of your shirt , or even the plans of your house in the painting of the wall of your living room…
In addition, the work carried out by these researchers represents another step towards a fantasy in the field of science fiction: machines capable of self-replicating, without human intervention being necessary .
For now, scientists have had to manually replicate the Stanford Bunny by extracting and decoding the DNA containing the instructions. In the future, however, it would be possible to automate these steps to allow machines to replicate automatically . According to Erlich, the automation of the extraction process is already possible. However, the sequencing step seems much more complicated to automate…