Swiss researchers have developed an innovative method of storing large amounts of data into DNA that would allow the records to last almost forever.
Using Switzerland’s Federal Charter, an equivalent of the UK’s Magna Carta, as an experimental data set, the researchers encrypted the document into 5,000 strings of DNA and covered it with a protective layer of silica about 150 nanometres thick.
After subjecting the silica drops to extreme temperatures to simulate age-related degradation, the team, led by ETH Zurich researcher Robert Grass was able to celebrate a major success.
Unlike previously tested methods, theirs seemed to be the first enabling the DNA-based record to stand the test of time and information to be retrieved subsequently without erroneous readings.
The use of silica was a key to the success as it virtually simulates the protection DNA information gets inside fossil bones. Such information is retrievable even after millions of years.
To correct any possible errors, the team used a specially tailored algorithm similar to those used to correct faults in data transmitted over long distances.
Data storage into DNA was first achieved about two years ago. However, the early attempts displayed low levels of stability and were severely prone to rapid chemical degradation.
The researchers believe the unconventional method could provide a solution for maintaining important documents holding information about today’s civilisation basically for eternity.
The inherent instability of data stored in the cyber space and the susceptibility of digital media to fail over relatively short periods of time compared with traditional hard copies has concerned scientists and researchers.
Earlier this month, one of the godfathers of Internet, American engineer Vint Cerf, warned that current society may leave future generations in the dark about its achievements due to the absence of readable records.
Storing crucial information in DNA seems to be offering a solution. If stored in stable and very cold conditions, for example inside the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, DNA-encoded information could survive over a million of years. For comparison, information on a microfilm will probably degrade in half a millennium.