Art and Experience: We’ve cloned a farmhouse full of animals. With CRISPR, we can edit the entire human genome. And now, Hollywood is capitalizing on what DNA does best: data.
By way of background, a team of scientists at the University of Washington has managed to encode digital data into the double helix—the most complex information-storing mechanism in existence—and reproduce it.
In a new paper, the research team details their process, which involves turning images (including a cute tabby cat) into binary data (zeroes and ones), and then translating that data further into the genetic code (ACGT).
Meanwhile, Hollywood has other plans for DNA. According to an article from Phys Org, Technicolor has coopted this process to preserve films. Researchers at the Technicolor Innovation Lab encoded one million copies of A Trip to the Moon (1902), the first film to use visual effects, into a single strand of artificial DNA.
“This, we believe, is what the future of movie archiving will look like,” Jean Bolot, Technicolor’s VP of Research and Innovation, said.
The process is similar to the one developed by University of Washington, which, in turn, builds upon research from 2012 by scientists at Harvard who were able to store 5.5 petabits of data—700 terabytes—in a gram of DNA.
Bolot’s team digitized A Trip to the Moon into the binary code, transcribed it into DNA code, and turned those into chemicals in a lab dish. The chemicals are then sequenced and converted back into computer code.
The problem of film preservation is complicated further by every new medium—first celluloid, then VHS, then DVD, and now hard drives. As each form becomes obsolete, so do many of the movies it contains. And then there is the problem of degradation; film inevitably decays, and bit rot seems to follow us deeper and deeper into the digital age.
So, is DNA the future of information storage?
“I don’t know where it’s going,” George Church, one of the Harvard researchers, told the Daily Mail. “It’s still a baby technology.” But as for the DNA sequence of A Trip to the Moon: “I would like to shoot it to the moon, the way Jules Verne envisioned.”