When Nick Goldman first opened the package, he couldn’t quite believe that it contained anything at all, much less all of Shakespeare’s sonnets. The parcel had come from a facility in the US and arrived at the European Bioinformatics Institute in the UK, in March 2012. It contained a series of small plastic vials, at the bottom of which were… apparently nothing. It was Goldman’s colleague Ewan Birney who showed him the tiny dust-like specks that he had missed.
These specks were DNA, and they contained:
- All of the Bard’s 154 sonnets.
- A 26-second clip of Martin Luther King’s legendary “I have a dream” speech
- A PDF of James Watson and Francis Crick’s classic paper where they detailed the structure of DNA
- A JPEG photo of Goldman and Birney’s institute
- A code that converted all of that into DNA in the first place
The team sent the vials off to a facility in Germany, where colleages dissolved the DNA in water, sequenced it, and reconstructed all the files with 100 percent accuracy. It vindicated the team’s efforts to encode digital information into DNA using a new technique—one that could be easily scaled up to global levels. And it showed the potential of the famous double-helix as a way of storing our growing morass of data. […]