Light Friday: DNA Storage May Replace the Hard Drive


Plus: The Evolution of Space Food, a 3-D Printable Android, and Super Bowl XLVII by the Numbers

DNA may be the answer to reliable data storage that lasts for decades. Researchers from the United Kingdom have found a way to encode genetic material with Shakespeare’s sonnets, a JPEG photo, and even an MP3 recording of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, using a breakthrough process that stores huge quantities of information with 100 percent accuracy.

While conventional storage technology is always changing, scientists at the European Bioinformatics Institute (EBI) have found a dependable and long-lasting method to store vast amounts of information in DNA. As the researchers explain in Nature, DNA is viable for storage due to its “capacity for high-density information encoding, longevity under easily achieved conditions and proven track record as an information bearer.”  Consider ancient wooly mammoth DNA, for example, which has survived for tens of thousands of years.

The information storage density of DNA is at least 1,000 times greater than current media capabilities. In fact, the team behind the breakthrough set a record in the amount of unique information they were able to encode at 739.3 kilobytes, according to the Economist. Unlike storage media that wear down over time or become un-retrievable, the team says that there will always be technology for reading DNA.

Last year, Harvard University scientists used technology to encode an entire book stored in DNA. But this time around, as MIT Technology Review explains, the U.K. researchers “focused on a practical error-tolerant design” and created software that converts digital information into the genetic alphabet of DNA bases with high accuracy.

While the cost for such data encoding is steep – priced at $12,400 per megabyte – the researchers say that current technology trends are reducing DNA synthesis costs, which means that their DNA encoding scheme could be cost-effective within a decade.

The Evolution of Space Food

Astronauts’ cuisine has come a long way over the past 50 years of manned space exploration, as scientists have learned more about the complex interplay between food preservation technology, nutrition, taste, and the psychology of eating.

NASA’s Advanced Food Technology Project, which is responsible for ensuring that the food astronauts consume in space is safe and healthy while balancing a mission’s technical requirements, recently released a series of photos detailing the evolution of space meals from the early days of meat paste squeezed from a tube to the gourmet-level cuisine enjoyed today.

“Astronauts have gone from eating seed and crackers to home-cooked style dishes including shrimp, Spanish rice for a ‘paella in space’ dish and even ice cream,” the Daily Mail notes. “Nutrition in space is incredibly complicated. Everything from the packaging to the menu has to be meticulously evaluated as the food must balance nutrition, flavor, and safety with more practical concerns such as preparation time, size, and shelf life.”

Astronaut food is typically dehydrated to keep it from spoiling, and meat is exposed to radiation prior to being placed on the shuttle to increase its shelf life. Each meal is sorted according to the eating schedule, and food trays are suspended in a net to keep them from floating away in zero gravity. Hot meals are heated in a forced-convection oven, and it can take up to 30 minutes to rehydrate and heat an average meal.

Here are some highlights tracing the changing quality of space food since the 1960s, with the final photo showing today’s astronaut dining options:

Credit: NASA

Credit: NASA

Credit: NASA

Credit: NASA

Credit: NASA

Credit: NASA

Credit: NASA


The 3-D Printable Android

Machines building intelligent machines? While it may sound like yet another step closer to the robot apocalypse, the latest application for at-home fabricating is actually an example of elegant engineering. French sculptor Gael Langevin’s InMoov project has produced a voice-controlled android that can be assembled from parts created by a 3-D printer.

The robot is fully animated and responds to a user’s voice commands. Best of all, Langevin has made the blueprints freely available via open source, meaning any ambitious do-it-yourselfer can get to work constructing a robot sidekick.

Super Bowl XLVII by the Numbers

With the Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers set to square off this Sunday, Super Bowl XLVII promises to be one of the biggest sporting events of the year. The size and scale of the upcoming game is truly epic, as a new infographic from ticket sales company Vivid Seats illustrates.

For example, 61 million people will attend a Super Bowl party this weekend, where each will consume an average of 1,200 calories during the game. In total, Americans will eat 100 million lbs. of chicken wings this Sunday, as well as 2 million pizzas, and then wash it down with 49.2 million cases of beer.

Credit: Vivid Seats

Credit: Vivid Seats

Have a great weekend, folks.



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