Genetic storage device has been used to download all 154 of Shakespeare's sonnets on to DNA strands. (AP)
A genetic storage device has been used to 'download' all 154 of Shakespeare's sonnets on to strands of synthetic DNA, in a breakthrough which could solve the problem of storing the ever-growing mountain of data.
Scientists were able to decode the information and reproduce the words of the Bard with complete accuracy.
The new method by researchers at the EMBL-European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI), published in the journal Nature, makes it possible to store at least 100 million hours of high-definition video in about a cup of DNA.
The technique made it possible to store a 26 second excerpt from Martin Luther King's 'I Have A Dream' speech and a photo of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory where the work took place.
Researchers were also able to turn a copy of Watson and Crick's paper describing the nature of DNA into genetic code.
There is a lot of digital information in the world - about three zettabytes' worth (that's 3000 billion billion bytes) - and the constant influx of new digital content poses a real challenge for archivists.
Hard disks are expensive and require a constant supply of electricity, while even the best "no-power" archiving materials such as magnetic tape degrade within a decade.
This is a growing problem in the life sciences, where massive volumes of data - including DNA sequences - make up the fabric of the scientific record.
"We already know that DNA is a robust way to store information because we can extract it from bones of woolly mammoths, which date back tens of thousands of years, and make sense of it," said Nick Goldman of EMBL-EBI.
"It's also incredibly small, dense and does not need any power for storage, so shipping and keeping it is easy," Goldman said in a statement.
Reading DNA is fairly straightforward, but writing it has until now been a major hurdle to making DNA storage a reality.
The new method required synthesising DNA from the encoded information which was done by a California-based company.
"We downloaded the files from the Web and used them to synthesise hundreds of thousands of pieces of DNA - the result looks like a tiny piece of dust," Emily Leproust of Agilent Technologies said.
Agilent mailed the sample to EMBL-EBI, where the researchers were able to sequence the DNA and decode the files without errors.
"We've created a code that's error tolerant using a molecular form we know will last in the right conditions for 10 000 years, or possibly longer.
"As long as someone knows what the code is, you will be able to read it back if you have a machine that can read DNA," said Goldman.