Reading, Writing and RNA

Every type of storage media–from stone to paper to magnetic disks–is subject to destruction. From the great fire that destroyed Alexandria’s world-class library in 48 B.C. to that unfortunate hard drive crash last week, information has had a habit of suddenly disappearing because the media that contains it succumbs to the forces of nature.

Researchers from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory are tapping forces of nature to store information more permanently.

The forces of nature to store information permanently? What ever could this mean?

Well, no less than using bacterial DNA to store text, pictures, music–any form of information in binary code converted to the appropriate sequence of nucleotides. And in multiple billions of copies no less.

Nature has been using this incredibly dense form of communication for millennia.

The ultimate goal of the research “is to use living organisms to store and retrieve significant amounts of data quickly,” said Wong. Living organisms, including weeds and cockroaches, that have survived on Earth for hundreds of millions of years are good candidates for protecting critical information for future generations, according to Wong.

If this isn’t the stuff of science fiction, then I don’t know what is.

Mankind is doomed to oblivion by its own indifference, greed and violence. Future scientists–remnants of humanity millenniums from the Apocalypse or visiting aliens who discover only lowly lifeforms on the third rock from the Sun–reconstruct the former civilization (the entire biosphere genome and every book from every library) from cockroaches collected across the planet. link

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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. What I wanna know is this: what if there’s a frame-shift mutation? Or any other type of genetic variation, for that matter? Sure, cells have self-correcting and proof-reading mechanisms for such events, but they’re not flawless.

    This seems like a supremely bad idea to me.