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Biochemistry meets computer science: How we can store digital data in DNA

Up to now, there are no forms of long-term digital archiving: the longest-lived hard disks and tapes are intact for no more than 50 years. After that, the data that was stored on them is lost. And even if chips and hard disks seem to be getting smaller and smaller, their compactness will reach natural limits at some point. At the same time, more and more important processes are taking place in the digital realm, we are collecting more and more digital data and developing new ideas and concepts to integrate information technologies into everyday life and technical processes. Our culture is also expressed in the digital, digital values and works are created. So the need for innovative storage media that can be used flexibly on the one hand and last for centuries and millennia on the other is there. One promising candidate in the search for solutions is DNA. How is it possible to translate digitality into this biochemical substance? And what new possibilities do then arise?

Prof. Dr Robert Grass researches and teaches at the Department of Chemistry and Applied Biosciences at ETH Zurich, where he works in particular on making DNA usable as a storage medium: He has co-developed a process in which DNA remains preservable in tiny glass beads for many millennia – and at the same time can be read when needed. In this episode of Digitalgespräch, the scientist and inventor explains how this is done, what challenges exist and what future visions he and his colleagues have for the development of this new storage technology. He describes possible applications for industry and business on the one hand and the archiving of digital as well as digitised cultural assets on the other. With hosts Marlene Görger and Petra Gehring, Grass discusses analogies between natural and technical processes and which difficult tasks absolutely must be solved if archives – especially digital ones! – are to be not only intact but also understandable in the distant future.

Episode 31 of Digitalgespräch, feat. Robert Grass of ETH Zurich, 20 Dezember 2022
Further informationen:

Link to film of the European Patent Office presenting and explaining the work of Robert Grass and Wendelin Stark as part of the European Inventor Award:–4B0Pg4pf8 (English and French subtitles available)

all episodes of Digitalgespräch»

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The podcast is in German. At the moment there is no English version or transcript available.