DNA: The Language of Commerce

I was reading again the other day about tentative new plans for “rewilding” the earth with recently–or long-extinct–animals that have disappeared due to the impacts of the human swarm during the age of modern civilization since the last ice age.

Such a thing is possible because 1) DNA in long-dead creatures last a long time; and 2) we are getting better and better at using DNA’s four nucleotide “letters” to both read and write; and 3) we have gained the computational speed and storage capacity to undertake massively complex technological challenges like the de-extinction of wooly mammoths.

And, as fate would have it, this same combination of recent reality conspires to change the future of data storage. Note the following about DNA as Data:

â–¶ It is now possible to store the content of the entire World Wide Web within just 75 grams of DNA material.

â–¶ Modern lab equipment can analyze a single human genome of 3 billion DNA base pairs in a few hours.

â–¶ It is possible to store a whopping 5.5 petabytes (equal to 700 terabytes) of information within a single gram of DNA

▶ It is possible to store 100 million hours of high-definition video in about a cup of DNA

While DNA offers enormous potential (when it becomes cost-effective in another x years) to contain the words, images, numbers and ideas generated by our info-times, we also become better able to understand the detailed workings of the very blueprint of life by way of our computational power.

The “language of life” is soon to become the “language of commerce.” Does profit or curiosity drive us more?

The ethical implications of this are vast. I do not expect that they will enter into the conversation. If it CAN be done, it SHOULD be done: the engineering credo. And let the chips fall where they may.

Are we destined to do the NEXT THING no matter what? Have we ever stepped back from any technology that became possible–for GOOD–because of its potential to be turned to the bad?

This exciting. This is terrifying. The structure of DNA has only been known since the mid-50s. Makes my head swim.

I’ll miss it mostly, but it may become as ubiquitous in younger lives as thumb drives and cell phones are today. Instead of ones and zeros, our keystrokes will become A, T, C and G.

Inside the DNA of Big Data: The future of medicine & storage | SiliconANGLE

Store more. Much more! | The Why Files

DNA Is The Next Big Data Storage Technology | Industry Tap

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. As an engineer, I would correct your credo to say “if it can be done, it WILL be done”. Engineers, as a whole, are just as concerned as anybody else about the implications – possibly moreso as they understand it better. But you could have 80% of scientist/engineers think “we just shouldn’t go there”, and you’ve still got 20% who will go there. Kinda like all you need is one un-neutered male cat….

  2. Hi Bethany, thanks for stopping by. And yes, I take the “what we’re made of” in two senses. I’d like to think we’re made of noble enough stuff to do the right thing with our technologies, though history has told quite another story. The future, I fear, will be sold to the highest bidder.