Today’s hard drives come in many sizes and formats, and many of us store our most valuable data and memories within them–if not in our homes, then at least on the cloud. Now, scientists are looking to biology for data storage that can occur even in living cells. Even Microsoft themselves has announced that they intend to implement DNA storage in their data centers within the next decade.

It makes sense why we would look to nature which always seems able to provide answers.

After all, DNA can be sequenced and read hundreds of thousands of years later and some living bacteria have the capability to survive nuclear explosions and extreme temperatures.

Plus, nature is a master of efficiency.

All the world’s data, if stored in DNA, could be stored in the back of a truck–a huge step up from our massive data centers and comparably huge drives. Unlike cassettes, VHS, and other bygone technologies, we will always, presumably,  have the means to read DNA.

Nature also has a great capacity for redundancy, something we often seek in data storage. In fact, a geneticist recently recorded his own book into DNA then created 90 billion copies of it.

Researchers at Harvard have written and replayed a GIF of a running horse in the DNA of living cells, a major breakthrough that could have massive implications for our future. The image is their own rendition of “The Horse in Motion” by Eadweard Muybridge in 1878, who was himself on a scientific quest. The purpose of this recording, which was created by using 12 different cameras attached to a tripwire, was to determine if a horse was ever fully airborne during its running stride, and the early film delivered a very definite “Yes!”

Source: Library of Congress


Source: Wyss Institute at Harvard University

This simple black and white film was recorded using renowned CRISPR/Cas technology that essentially hijacks the natural tendency of a bacteria to “cut and paste” a piece of an invading virus’ DNA code into its own for easier recognition in the future.

There are still some technical issues with using this method since bacteria do not always clip and record the full intended code, as can be seen in the slight differences between the recorded data and the playback.

Using living cells may not be the best option for all forms of data storage since it is less efficient than using synthetic DNA.

However, living cells do have substantial benefits over synthetic DNA for certain use cases. For example, living tissue could be used as a sort of black box to record changes in the human body that, in the event of an illness, doctors could use to “replay” these changes.

Creating recording devices using their breakthrough is the Harvard team’s next area of focus, according to the Harvard Gazette.

What uses can you think of for recording data in living cells? Let us know in the comments below!