The Living Library: DNA Used As Data Storage

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If you have lived as long as I have, you’ve seen a number of information storage systems come and go: vinyl records, audio tapes, CDs, DVDs, the Cloud, and vinyl records. Their utility has varied, in terms of durability, storage size, bandwidth, and so on. But science is now perfecting what might be the ultimate form of data storage…

DNA.

In a recent study, researchers managed to fit six files—including a full computer operating system, a 1895 French film, and and an Amazon gift card—into 72,000 DNA strands. Sequencing technology was used to retrieve the information, with no errors.

One of the researchers, Yaniv Erlich, discussed with ResearchGate how DNA could be the perfect data storage system of the future:

DNA has several big advantages. First, it is much smaller than traditional media. In fact, we showed that we can reach a density of 215 Petabytes per gram of DNA! Second, DNA lasts for an extended period of time, over 100 years, which is orders of magnitude more than traditional media. Try to listen to any disk from the 90s, and see if it’s still good. Finally, traditional media suffers from digital obsoleteness. My parents have 8 mm tapes that are basically useless now. DNA has been around for 3 billion years, and humanity is unlikely to lose its ability to read these molecules. If it does, we will have much bigger problems than data storage.

Erlich estimates that it will be more than a decade before such technology is available for use by the general public. Still, it obviously has the potential to revolutionize everything.

Interestingly, a number of esoterically-inclined types have already been referring to DNA as exactly this type of crucial information storage for decades. Take Barbara Marciniak, whose 1994 book Earth, based off of channeled material, is all about this “living library” encoded within organic material:

The creator gods, those who believed themselves to be forces of creation, came together. pooled their knowledge, and created forms of life. They borrowed DNA and combinations of genetic material from many different worlds. They stored this material in Earth’s library system, which was connected to a system of twelve cosmic libraries.

and

One of the most exciting aspects about being on Earth right now is the retooling taking place in your DNA. Cosmic light-encoded rays, as photons, have been coming onto Earth, stimulating change and a reordering inside the human body. The scattered data that holds the history and awareness of the Living Library is now reorganizing.

Timothy Leary in Musings On Human Metamorphosis sees DNA as containing “packets” of vital information necessary for humanity to evolve…and further, that these packets might have some semblance of a sentience:

Geneticists make the chauvinistic mistake of assuming that DNA is a process, rather than a living intelligence as old as life itself that can teach us the meaning of existence…Neurogeneticists believe that the DNA code can communicate revelation and instruction.

And Philip K. Dick in his Exegesis is even more blunt about it:

So, as I say, we are talking about living info, info with a purpose and consciousness, even with a personality. It is a life form.

DNA, within the human, is an information storage system. The information itself might even be “alive,” in some sense…or perhaps it is some sort of artificial intelligence.

And maybe that information/AI is just a highly advanced version of what human researchers are already doing…using the DNA as data storage.

All of this begs the question: is there information in our DNA right now, planted by users unknown, that we just haven’t figured out the access code for yet? Well, since about 98.8 percent of our DNA is considered “noncoding”, without an obvious function—so-called “junk”—PERHAPS.