DNA arranged into tiny Lite-Brite style pegboards could help us store tons of data for centuries

We and our colleagues have developed a way to store data using pegs and pegboards made out of DNA and retrieving the data with a microscope – a molecular version of the Lite-Brite toy. Our prototype stores information in patterns using DNA strands spaced about 10 nanometers apart. Ten nanometers is more than a thousand times smaller than the diameter of a human hair and about 100 times smaller than the diameter of a bacterium.

We tested our digital nucleic acid memory (dNAM) by storing the statement “Data is in our DNA!n.” We described the research in a paper published in the journal Nature Communications on April 22, 2021.

Previous methods for retrieving data in DNA require the DNA to be sequenced. Sequencing is the process of reading the genetic code of strands of DNA. Though it is a powerful tool in medicine and biology, it wasn’t designed with DNA memory in mind.

Our approach uses a microscope to read the data optically. Because the DNA pegs are positioned closer than half the wavelength of visible light, we used super-resolution microscopy, which circumvents the diffraction limit of light. This provides a way to read the encoded data without sequencing the DNA.