Imagine storing all the world's archives in a box of seeds

You put data into plants. Why?
I was annoyed about the amount of disc space on my computer. I started wondering, what if I could store data in DNA? It’s such an immense reservoir of potential storage – 1 gram of it could store over 450 x 1018 bytes. All of the archives in the world could be stored in one box of seeds.

What was your first challenge?
Together with colleagues, we inserted a simple computer program called “Hello World” into a tobacco plant’s DNA.

How do you put computer code into DNA?
First you need a coding system. A computer program is basically a sequence of 0s and 1s, so we transformed this into the four DNA “letters” – A, G, C and T – by turning 00 into A, 10 into C, 01 into G and 11 into T. Then we synthesised the resulting DNA sequence. We transferred this artificial DNA into a bacterium and infected the leaf of a tobacco plant with it. The bacterium transfers this artificial DNA into the plant.

What happens to the data once placed inside the plant?
We took a cutting of the infected leaf, planted it, and grew a full tobacco plant from it. This is essentially cloning, so all the leaves of this new plant, and its seeds, contained the “Hello World” program encoded in their DNA.

How do you retrieve the data?
It’s not hard. You extract the plant’s DNA and sequence it using standard methods. We reconstructed the program from the resulting tobacco seedlings with complete accuracy: the message “Hello World” popped up on our …

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