DNA microarray. DNA – Deoxyribonucleic acid. From PD-USGOV-NASA on Wikimedia Commons

Ever wonder how we can relay messages to future populations? So do scientists. Recent news suggests DNA embedded in glass might be the answer to efficiently storing information for millions of years! Yet, storing large amounts of information is still limited by the price of DNA synthesis. And who knows what infrastructure we’ll have to read DNA millions of years from now?

DNA is currently the superior long-term storage device for information- look at the ancient DNA we have uncovered from environmental samples (e.g. mammoth and Neanderthal genomes) [1]. Furthermore, silica, a main component of glass, was previously shown to increase the stability of proteins [2]. Here, glass was also used to maintain DNA integrity in a water-free environment. However, since DNA synthesis is costly, we would need to be selective in what we encode for future populations. Additionally, the Global Seed Vault in Norway in which they plan to store the embedded DNA for 2 million years, needs to still be standing in that time frame. This might not be possible if global warming melts Svalbard’s ice. Overall, while DNA is the most efficient data storage option, the changing environment needs to be accounted for when sending messages far into the future.

Edited by SITN Waves correspondent Ankita Shastri. Many thanks to Jernej Turnsek and Mara Inniss for their insights into the story. Jernej is a graduate student in the Biological and Biomedical Sciences department at Harvard University. Mara is a Postdoctoral Fellow at Pfizer.

Link to news story
Original scientific article- Grass, R. N., Heckel, R., Puddu, M., Paunescu, D. and Stark, W. J., Robust Chemical Preservation of Digital Information on DNA in Silica with Error-Correcting Codes. Angew. Chem. Int. Ed., 54, 2552–2555 (2015). doi: 10.1002/anie.201411378
[1] Oldest animal genome is sequenced from horse bone
[2] Luckarift, H.R., Spain, J.C., Naik, R.R., and Stone, M.O., Enzyme immobilization in a biomimetic silica support. Nature Biotechnolgy, 22, 211-213 (2004). doi:10.1038/nbt931

One thought on “Can we send a message to the future with DNA?

  1. By adding silica crystallin to the existing DNA helix, we can effectively add retention to the replication process, adding to our species overall tenacity (perfect or near perfect replication. (??)

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