I am still travelling between Amsterdam and Brisbane for the #ICA_2012 conference. Because I tried to save money this trip is taking forever. Between Bangkok (3 hour stopover) and Taipei (10 hour stopover), I stumbled upon this article in the Wall Street Journal (Vol. XXX No. 142, August 17-19, 2012, p. 8):
For a moment I thought of science fiction, or of delusions caused by sleep deprivation, but, no, this is serious business. I quote from the article: “In the latest attempt to corral society’s growing quantities of digital data, Harvard University researchers encoded an entire book into the genetic molecules of DNA, the basic building block of life, and then accurately read back the text. … In that form, a billion copies of the book could fit in a test tube and, under normal circumstances, last for centuries, the researchers said.”
WSJ writer Robert Lee Hotz reports that the “unconventional exercise – one that is a ways from being commercially viable – highlights the potential of DNA as a stable, long-term archive for ordinary information, such as photographs, books, financial records, medical files and videos.”
Wow. The entire holdings of the soon to be merged Dutch National Library and National Archives in one test tube.
“It is a very simple way to store information,” said bioengineer Sriram Kosuri at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard.
The article concludes on a cautionary note: “For the foreseeable future, however, the DNA book is expensive and time-consuming to reed. It requires a series of laboratory procedures, microarray chips and a high-speed gene-sequencing machine to assemble the strands in the proper order.”
Ah, now there is a game we are all too familiar with: storage itself is the easy bit, getting the information in and out of the systems in a way that people can understand (remember OAIS: “independently understandable”) and that society can afford in terms of costs, is the hard work.
I guess I won’t take the next flight back to Amsterdam but patiently await the plane that will take me to Brisbane where all the experts can mull over exactly those questions.
Posted by Inge Angevaare
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