Going From Digital to Biological Books — Jurassic Book

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Scientists have found a way to publish a book on DNA, the molecules on which are written the genetic instructions for all living things. The breakthrough was developed by researchers at Harvard University, who published an article on the find in Science magazine.

The breakthrough is a significant one for those concerned with storage of lots of data: Storing information on DNA is many times more efficient than any technology that currently exists.

Other advantages of DNA storage is that it lasts thousands of years (millions if preserved in amber — think Jurassic Book), takes up very little space and is easily replicable. And if future intelligent civilizations stumble across the book, they won’t need an EPUB3-compatable e-reader to decode it — they’ll just have to know how to sequence DNA. The drawbacks, for now, are that scientists haven’t yet found a way to edit the DNA or re-write it and DNA sequencing technology is really expensive.

The way it works is that the words and images in a book are transformed into an HTML file, which is then converted to binary code (a series of 0s and 1s). Each 0 and 1 is then assigned a nucleobase (a snippet of DNA) and, voila!, you have a book! In the case of the book the Harvard researchers converted, a 53,000 word book translates into a DNA strand 5.27 million nucleobases long — sounds big but it’s infinitesimally small.

Reading the book is just as simple: simply decode the DNA back into binary code, convert that code into an HTML file and then read it in an e-reading program.

We’re probably a long way off from consumer DNA sequencing technology, but when that day comes, book publishers of the future might have to convert their e-books to b-books (biological).

Related: In the Digital Era, Publication Does Not Equal Preservation



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