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Shakespeare in DNA

January 27, 2013

Scientists report storing all of Shakespeare (and some MLK) in DNA. This is much like what the Sharers did in A Door into Ocean when they stored all their knowledge in the raft tree cells.

DNA turns out to have excellent storage properties. When stored dry, it can be stable for hundreds of years. Multiple copies take up little space, so even where errors may occur, they will be dwarfed by the “good” copies.

Perhaps the best advantage of DNA is that it never goes obsolete–there will always be DNA in us, and we’ll always need to read it. So, one way or another, there will always be DNA readers and copiers.

Make way for DNA storage.

  1. January 27, 2013 3:47 pm

    Reading and translating codons will still be difficult though. I wonder how possible it would be really to add information packages like this to living cells so that replication errors and mutations could be handled by the massive redundancy. Would cells just find a way to eliminate the “baggage” or would the genome with the message be stable enough? Venter’s experiments with incorporating their names in bacterial cells seemed stable. But I wonder about these much larger “sonnet” packages.

    Reading is an issue too. You could try whole chromosome sequencing and translate that, but the kit is going to be much larger than a flash or hard drive. Shotgun sequencing would require stitching the fragments back together.

    While the technology seems cool, I don’t see it as any more than a demonstration proof. This more conventional approach ( ) is almost ready for the market and is claimed to be stable for millions of years.

    • January 27, 2013 4:39 pm

      Codons are irrelevant; all that matters is the four letters of information. Reading DNA is super easy; the doctor’s test human genome is nearly here.

      The DNA storage is in fact highly accurate, in part because you store so many copies of it. The few errors are swamped by redundancy. This was a big point in A Door into Ocean, where their information could not be lost because copies were stored in trillions of cells.

      • January 28, 2013 1:18 am

        OK codons my be irrelevant, but to get the necessary numbers of characters you need several bases to code for each character. So you will still need the correct reading frame, especially if you are going to read fragments.

        The issue of how to read the DNA with what type of kit is important, even for archival purposes. There may be a role for DNA data storage of documents, but if it is, this is just a very crude example.

  2. January 27, 2013 4:04 pm

    Neat! I loved that in a Door into Ocean. Sf becomes reality! MJ

  3. Frank Caesar Branchini permalink
    January 27, 2013 4:24 pm

    How would they get DNA from Shakespeare?

  4. January 28, 2013 8:45 am

    what a cool, inspiring post to start the week at! (PS – see you at Boskone!)

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