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University of Washington researcher Lee Organick (foreground) and Microsoft researcher Yuan-Jyue Chen (background) work in the Molecular Information Systems Lab. (UW Photo / Dennis Wise)

Scientists from the University of Washington and Microsoft are improving their system for preserving digital data in strands of synthetic DNA — and they’re giving you the chance to participate.

The UW-Microsoft team laid out the method in a research paper published this week in Nature Biotechnology.

For the experiment described in the paper, text files as well audio, images and a high-definition music video featuring the band OK Go were first digitally encoded, and then converted into chemical coding — that is, adenine, thymine, cytosine and guanine, which make up the ATCG alphabet for DNA base pairs.

The system used molecular markers, or primers, to enable random-access reads from a database containing more than 200 megabytes’ worth of DNA-encoded data. Computer scientists developed algorithms that enhanced the system’s tolerance for coding errors.

“Our work reduces the effort, both in sequencing capacity and in processing, to completely recover information stored in DNA,” explained Microsoft senior researcher Sergey Yekhanin, who was instrumental in creating the codec and algorithms used to achieve the team’s reported results.

It turns out that the 200-megabyte mark is already 19-month-old news.

“Since this paper was submitted for publication, we have reached over 400 megabytes, and we are still growing and learning more about large-scale DNA data storage,” computer scientist Luis Ceze said in the online newsletter for UW’s Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science and Engineering.

Researchers on the UW-Microsoft team say they should be able to scale up the method to store terabytes’ worth of data in pools of DNA.

Do you want to preserve your photos in a digital DNA archive created by UW’s Molecular Information Systems Laboratory? Check out the #MemoriesInDNA webpage to find out how.

In addition to Ceze and Yekhanin, the authors of the paper published in Nature Biotechnology, “Random Access in Large-Scale DNA Data Storage,” include Lee Organick, Siena Dumas Ang, Yuan-Jyue Chen, Randolph Lopez, Konstantin Makarychev, Miklos Racz, Govinda Kamath, Parikshit Gopalan, Bichlien Nguyen, Christopher Takahashi, Sharon Newman, Hsing-Yeh Parker, Cyrus Rashtchian, Kendall Stewart, Gagan Gupta, Robert Carlson, John Mulligan, Douglas Carmean, Georg Seelig and Karin Strauss.

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