We often post about science and technology intersecting in crazy ways, but today's update is possibly the most mind-blowing piece of science news we've encountered in a long time. Together, scientists at the University of Washington and engineers at Microsoft actually managed to store digital photos in DNA. Yes, like the stuff in our bodies. Yes, this sounds like a high-concept blockbuster premise.
Basically, the team accomplished this incredible feat by converting the binary code (those 1s and 0s that computers read) that made up the pictures into the four protein building blocks that make up DNA (adenine, guanine, cytosine, thymine). The hardest part was getting the photos back, but it worked. Their hope is that they can eventually use this process on a larger scale. Right now, the amount of storage required to support the entire internet is massive -- I mean, just think about the sheer number of cat photos we have to preserve. DNA as a storage medium has an advantage because it's tiny and doesn't take up space. Imagine if you could store your entire Instagram photo collection in a grain of salt. (There are also probably more important things we can do with that storage space.)
We could probably have a lot of fun thinking about this in an uber-futuristic sci-fi way, and although it's too early to imagine the possibilities, maybe there's even a future where we can store our digital content in our own DNA -- perhaps content stored in DNA could work in tandem with RFID implants or other new body modifications.
But the bigger implication here is how much we have in common with machines. Obviously people built computers, so it makes sense that there are similarities between binary code and DNA molecules, but it's still incredible to think about. I know it's premature, but I'd like to nominate DNA as the TIME 2016 Person of the Year. Between CRISPR and this, I think the line between IRL and URL is more blurred than ever before.