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Pencil and test tube of DNA
Ten terabytes of data can be stored in the pink smear of DNA at the end of this test tube. That’s the equivalent of 600 basic smartphones. (University of Washington Photo / Tara Brown)

In a first for science, researchers from the University of Washington, Microsoft and Twist Bioscience have stored archival-quality recordings of audio on DNA.

It’s just one of several milestones in DNA storage that the researchers have passed in the last few years. UW and Microsoft researchers started the work with cat pictures and other images last year and quickly broke a record by storing 200 megabytes of data on DNA, including a music video by the band OK Go.

Twist Bioscience, a San Francisco-based biotech company, joined the party earlier this year. The basic idea is that the base pairs in DNA, which normally store genetic material, can be repurposed to store terabytes worth of data more efficiently than man-made storage systems.

The lucky songs in the most recent milestone are “Tutu” by legendary jazz musician Miles Davis and “Smoke on the Water” by English rock group Deep Purple. The original recordings were part of the Montreux Jazz Festival archive, which is also where the new DNA-encoded versions will live.

Not only is the milestone a big moment for scientists, it’s also a huge event for archivists. Normally, archived recordings need to be replaced every 10 years, but the DNA-stored songs can go millennia without changing so much as a byte.

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