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Scientific American Highlights Professor George Seelig's Research in DNA Storage

Electrical Engineering Associate Professor Georg Seelig, along with Computer Science and Engineering Professor Luis Ceze and Microsoft’s Karin Strauss, developed an original encoding system that can be copied onto DNA. The sequence was presented at the Association for Computing Machinery Conference and was recently mentioned in a May 31 Scientific American article.

Within the last decade, engineers and scientists have demonstrated the opportunities in storing complex data conveniently in the highly compactible and resilient DNA. Because of its size, DNA can hold billions of gigabytes of data in about half a millimeter – or the size of a grain of salt.

Seelig, along with his two colleagues, uploaded three image files – each containing tens of kilobytes – in 40,000 strands of DNA. The three researchers then read the strand and concluded that there were no errors.

“How you go from ones and zeroes to As, Gs, Cs and Ts really matters because if you use a smart approach, you can make it very dense and you don't get a lot of errors," said Professor Seelig. "If you do it wrong, you get a lot of mistakes."

In our current state, the amount of data we produce has a limited shelf life. By the year 2020, our digital universe – the teeming pieces of data packed in our digital files – will reach 44 trillion gigabytes.

At most, our trillions of gigabytes of final papers, medical records, financial documents, and travel photos can last about 30 years due to memory space capacity. DNA storage saves us space and gives us time – thousands of years, in fact.

This collaboration between industries, researchers and, fundamentally, nature and technology offers a robust approach, which will alter the way we think about digital storage.

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