Sunday, January 16

DNA encoding: why is this storage technology entering the National Archives?

A new storage technology on DNA strands made its debut this week at the National Archives in Paris. More durable than hard disks and above all less bulky than large books, it inaugurates a new method to safeguard the memories of humanity.

And it is with the declaration of the rights of man (1789) and that of the rights of women (1791) that this encoding of a new genre began.

Two microcapsules each containing these texts were symbolically donated to the National Archives, which thus becomes the first public institution in the world to receive this biotechnology, the durability of which is guaranteed for the next 50,000 years.

Even if the discovery of the DNA strands of a million-year-old Mammoth attests to a longevity of information that exceeds the order of tens of thousands of years.

All the data of the world on a chocolate bar

Above all, the encryption of data on DNA is particularly economical in place. Potentially, “we could store all the data in the world in the equivalent of a chocolate bar”, enthuses Stéphane Lemaire, CNRS research director, in charge of the project. DNA Drive.

Concretely, DNA storage involves “transforming binary digital data (made up of 0 and 1) into quaternary data: the letters A, T, C and G. These letters are the building blocks of DNA, which transmit the ‘genetic information from generation to generation ”, we summarize.

It is therefore inspired by what has governed living beings for billions of years. In addition, encoding on DNA does not consume any energy and can be stored permanently, while “the systems on hard disk must be recopied for security every five years, and those on magnetic tape every twenty years”, had explained in last April Marc Antonini, CNRS research director at the computer science, signals and systems laboratory in Sophia Antipolis.

This project, called OligoArchive and supported by the European Commission, is also a sign of hope for offering alternative storage solutions to highly energy-intensive data centers. In early 2021, researchers had demonstrated the ability to store images in synthetic DNA. However, this technology is still very expensive. It takes for example 900 euros to store a mega byte (1 MB) of data, the equivalent of a Super Nintendo video game.

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