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Data Storage Biotech Science

Storing Data In Synthetic Fossils 36

Bismillah tips news of research from ETH Zurich which brings the possibility of extremely long-term data storage. The scientists encoded data in DNA, a young but established technique that has a major problem: accuracy. "[E]ven a short period of time presents a problem in terms of the margin of error, as mistakes occur in the writing and reading of the DNA. Over the longer term, DNA can change significantly as it reacts chemically with the environment, thus presenting an obstacle to long-term storage." To get around this issue, they encapsulated the DNA within tiny silica spheres, a process roughly comparable to the fossilization of bones (abstract). The researchers say data can be preserved this way for over a million years.
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Storing Data In Synthetic Fossils

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  • They're proven and reliable don't use some new-fangled technology..

  • FINALLY (Score:5, Funny)

    by jeffmeden ( 135043 ) on Wednesday February 18, 2015 @07:53AM (#49078939) Homepage Journal

    Can this be the end to the monthly "Hey guys whats the best way to back up my mp3s and family pics, no i mean really back them up, like for YEARS" on ask slashdot? From now on when one of those submissions gets greenlit, a link to this is going to be the only reply. Are we agreed?

    • Just put them in the cloud and let another company take care of it.

      • I've found that the best way to back up a video is to upload it to Youtube and use the CC license option. A million other accounts will quickly re-host the video with paid advertising on them.

        Long into the future, when alien archaeologists are trying to piece together knowledge on the civilization that used to exist on this planet and haven't even figured out any of our languages yet, my little GoPro sports videos will persist.

    • If you include DIY instructions, then Hell Yes! Now where do you bury your fossils so that they can be found again?

      • Now where do you bury your fossils so that they can be found again?

        I've got a nursing home picked out already.

    • I've stored all my past data successfully and archived in a non-magnetic format, with duplicates stored at alternate locations for safety. Now if only I could remember what my encryption password was in 1983...

      • I've stored all my past data successfully and archived in a non-magnetic format, with duplicates stored at alternate locations for safety. Now if only I could remember what my encryption password was in 1983...

        That's ok, any form of encryption used in 1983 is sure to be mere seconds away from cracking with any modern PC.

  • Can we get some data transfer rates, seek time, buffer size, and what platform these will be geared?
  • Who Will Read It ? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Jim Sadler ( 3430529 ) on Wednesday February 18, 2015 @08:14AM (#49079011)
    We already have a substantial body of materials from the ancients which go unread or unstudied. And if the rare scholar happens to dig into that material whatever he gleans from it tends not to be communicated to others unless some real revelation is obvious in the material. There is a further issue in that the scholar who does read the material may not have the odd skills required to understand what he is reading. For example a financial transaction might display some form of primitive calculus that would only be noticed by someone who specializes in ancient mathematics. Or it could be some form of description that applies to more than one thing such as a sort of verbal mapping that might have important information. These issues also apply to fairly modern works as well. For example who studies the region now called Hungary for literature appearing in the 14th or 15th, centuries? Did Armenia have a Shakespeare? And we get into India or China the shear volume of materials is a barrier in itself. Now cast forward one million years and try to imagine who would apply much effort to studying what we do today. Frankly we are all lost in time and space it is just that most of us don't know it. If you don't believe that please name one citizen of the Etruscan Empire. Or how about one citizen from the Chaldean Empire?
    • by khallow ( 566160 )

      Now cast forward one million years and try to imagine who would apply much effort to studying what we do today.

      Strong AI. What prizes did I win?

    • A few thoughts come to mind:

      1) I imagine the same thing could more or less be said about libraries. After all, the vast majority of books in a large library go unread at any given time

      2) Eventually our current nation-states will grow old and die. The cultures that replace them might find it useful to destroy whatever archives that they can find, or it might happen by warfare or accident.

      3) LOCKSS. Lot's Of Copies Keep Stuff Safe. Too bad the Library of Alexandria didn't have a redundant offsite backup locat

    • Frankly we are all lost in time and space it is just that most of us don't know it. If you don't believe that please name one citizen of the Etruscan Empire. Or how about one citizen from the Chaldean Empire?

      As already mentioned, the Etruscan state didn't have an empire; the Chaldean Empire didn't really measure up by today's standards either -- and yet, many people today know about Ur -- he had a major town named after him that a rather famous individual was from.

      So yeah; maybe if we had better records for some of the other areas of history, they'd be influencing modern culture and knowledge more than they currently are -- but it seems like lineage plays a bigger role than records keeping in what humanity stud

    • by mlts ( 1038732 )

      There is also how it gets read. There are languages out there which at best there are a few words decoded, since there was not a Rosetta Stone offering a decent translation.

      Take something relatively simple... an all text PDF stored on a MFM floppy disk. There are so many layers that need to be explained, from the placement of magnetic domains to soft/hard sectoring to what encoding mechanism is in use, to what letters correspond to what bit streams, to the filesystem and PDF format. This all needs to be

  • They can do glass etching with lasers in 3D why cant they do the same but with binary data? make a glass or lexan cube that holds data in a 3D array to send data into the distant future?

  • Storage is only part of the problem. When I was doing some maintenance programming many years ago a colleague had to dredge up data from old CDC tapes. It took a while. Now fast forward 1 million years.

  • Good Idea? (Score:4, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 18, 2015 @08:59AM (#49079235)

    Today: "I've got this really important data, let's store it as fossilized DNA!"

    2000 years later: "Hey, I've found some fossilized DNA, let's inject it in some frog eggs and see what happens!"

    • Today: "I've got this really important data, let's store it as fossilized DNA!"

      2000 years later: "Hey, I've found some fossilized DNA, let's inject it in some frog eggs and see what happens!"

      And what if the data was pr0n?

      Zomg ... now that would be a hot mess.

  • One must be long overdue. It's not like, super certain, that current civilization will last longer than the Ptolemaic Dynasty.
  • and it worked perfectly [wikia.com] allowing a 100% recovery of original data.
  • Extremely long-term data storage you say? Time-proven technology of chisel and stone seems by far the best option.
    • I would think fired clay tablets would offer similar storage but be a bit easier to manufacture. Sadly I now want to see if I can do this and create a modern rosetta stone and go bury it in the woods in the park behind my house.
      • by swb ( 14022 )

        Maybe you could use the same process used to create quartz countertops but with a mould with your data in it that could be debossed into the surface as its made.

        Probably bonus points if you use the process to deboss your main info into the quartz along with instructions for optically decoding a message optically encoded into the surface.

        You'd have to keep it out of the sun to avoid UV discoloration of the resin binders, but I'd guess that wouldn't effect the debossed info.

        • Why go through all that effort with modern materials that probably will breakdown over the time scales in consideration? I was thinking more along the lines of using one color of clay for the primary tablet creating the impressions for the text, then filling those impressions with another color of clay. This should prevent the lettering from being damaged over time making reading easier. Then just fire the thing to create some stoneware. The goal would be to create something that has a high probability of b
  • I thought this was an Onion article for their biochemical edition when I read the headline. DNA is not a place you want to put your information because DNases are everywhere. Anyone who handles this information medium is loaded up with the enzymes designed specifically to degrade them. The only worse idea would be data storage in RNA or maybe wisps of smoke.

    Oh, but we are going to encapsulate them. That should do it. Yeah, go for this storage method that you have to synthesize with a rate millions of tim
  • Ok, so these spheres come with mini-USB connectors ? :)
    Two things to think about....how tiny/delicate is the connection matrix (subject to damage?). And, in the event of a widespread disaster that takes civilization to near zero, the ability to engineer something able to read them....does the civiization following ours have to evolve to our technological level to read it ? That somewhat would make it useless for someone trying to survive/rebuild in the aftermath.
    Maybe stone tablets WOULD be a better idea

  • This might be useful if we ever build very slow, small and cheap interstellar colonization ships. Basically, I'm picturing something like a seed from which an entire civilization could hatch. In practice, it would be a tiny fabrication plant, plus lots of data. Once it arrives, the thing would use material from an asteroid or a comet to build larger and more specialized 3D printers, which would turn asteroids into a habitable space station, bioreplicators, etc. The bioreplicators would produce living germ c

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