DNA Data Storage Breakthrough, Shakespeare Lives… Sort of

Scientists at the European Bioinformatics Institute have created a DNA information storage and retrieval system — think “organic hard drive” — and tested it by uploading sonnets, sound clips and how-to’s. But not just any old bits from the Wikimedia Commons …

The information stored on hundreds of thousands of strands of of DNA, according to ExtremeTech

…consisted of a .txt file of all of Shakespeare’s sonnets, a 26-second clip of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, a .jpeg of the Bioinformatics Institute, a .pdf of Watson and Crick’s paper that detailed DNA structure, and a file that explains the actual encoding process being used…

The files were downloaded from the Internet and encoded into DNA into an organic form — as it was put in manner reminiscent of Douglas Adams — “the size of a rather small piece of dust.”

When that churl Death my bones with dust shall cover

Uh, no, they effectively rendered the works of Shakespeare, King, Watson and Crick into the lorem ipsum of bioinformatics. True, they had to put something in there but the question that gets me is how do you choose? Of all the works of humankind, how does one choose that with which to make history?

Sounds of EarthThis kind of situation has come up before. Carl Sagan led the the team at Cornell that decided what to include on the Voyager Golden Record, which was subsequently loaded onto the two Voyager spacecraft as a sort of “message in a bottle” to those beings with record players living outside the Milky Way.

Mozart, Stravinsky, Blind Willie Johnson, Chuck Berry and naturally a bit of the old Ludwig Van made the cut. Given that both Voyagers left our solar system last year, it?s time to crank the tunes since the copyright holders of the recordings included on the disc only allowed their use outside of our solar system (somewhere Lawrence Lessig is shaking his head).

Would you want your creative work crammed into DNA or shot into space? Would you care about copyright? Would it violate Amazon’s Kindle Select program?

Hearkening back on the lorem ipsum notion, I’m half compelled to write a novel specifically to be used by the scientific community should they ever need to weave 60,000 words of finely crafted prose into the very fabric of life as we know it or shoot some into space in search of life as we don’t know it yet. Either way, it’s a fair stab at literary immortality.

Says Thomas Paine: “When we are planning for posterity, we ought to remember that virtue is not hereditary.”

But the contents of your DNA drive, well, they just might be.