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It is very likely that soon this information technology term will regain its original meaning — researchers from Microsoft and the University of Washington have marked a new milestone in data storage by writing approximately MB of data in the form of a synthetic DNA. The analogy is pretty direct — viruses insert their genetic code into the DNA of infected organisms, causing the DNA to reproduce the viruses instead of synthesizing the right proteins, which are vital.
The most aggressive viruses disrupt normal physiological processes to such an extreme extent that it leads to the death of the cells and, in the end — of the whole organism. DNA, which stands for deoxyribonucleic acid, is the largest molecule in our organism, and a carrier of genetic information. The closest IT analogue is the boot image, which enables the computer to start up and load the operating system.
All characteristics of the organism, from eye and hair color to any hereditary disorders, are stored in the DNA. They are encoded in a sequence of nucleotides — molecular blocks containing for most known organisms only four varieties of nitrogenous bases: These two strands are attached one to another with hydrogen bonds that form only between strictly defined pairs of nucleotides — when they complement each other.
This ensures that information encoded into a given sequence of nucleotides in one strand corresponds to a similar sequence of complementary nucleotides in the second strand. This indicates if a sequence of nucleotides, coding some genetic characteristic, has been damaged in one of the strands.
In addition, genetic characteristics are encoded into nucleotide sequences using redundant encoding algorithms. To explain how it works in the simplest case — imagine that every hereditary characteristic, written as a sequence of nucleotides, is accompanied by a checksum. The sequences of nucleotides coding genetic characteristics, or genes, have been studied extensively in the 50 years since the discovery of DNA.
Today you can have your DNA read in many labs or even online — via 23andme or similar services. Through the past few centuries, scientists have developed methods to determine the structure of minuscule objects, such as X-ray structure analysis, mass spectrometry, and a family of spectroscopy methods.
They work quite well for molecules comprising two, three, or four atoms, but understanding the experimental results for larger molecules is much more complicated. The more atoms in the molecule, the harder it is to understand its structure. Keep in mind that DNA is considered the largest molecule for a good reason: DNA from a haploid human cell contains about 3 billion pairs of bases. The molecular mass of a DNA is a few orders of magnitude higher than the molecular mass of the largest known protein.
But scientists have come up with a sequencing method that rapidly accelerates the process. The main idea behind it: To do this, biologists use molecular machines: The core function of these proteins is to copy the DNA by running along the strand and building a replica from bases.
Primers contain a given sequence of nucleotides that can attach itself to a DNA strand at a place where it finds a corresponding sequence of complementary bases. Polymerase finds the primer and starts cloning the sequence, taking the building blocks from the solution. Like every living process, all of this happens in a liquid form.
Polymerase clones the sequence until it encounters a marker: There is a problem, however. The polymerase, DNA strand, primers, markers, and our building blocks, all are dispersed in the solution.
Continuing to the IT analogy, we can illustrate it in the following manner. Imagine that our DNA is a combination of bits: If we use as a primer and 11 as a marker, we will get the following set of fragments, placed in the order of decreasing probability: Using different primers and markers, we will go through all of the possible shorter sequences, and then infer the longer sequence based on the knowledge of what it is composed of.
That may sound counterintuitive and complicated, but it works. In fact, because we have multiple processes in parallel, this method reaches quite a good speed. That is, a few hours compared with months or years — not very fast from IT perspective, though. After learning how to read DNA, scientists learned how to synthesize sequences of nucleotides.
The Microsoft researchers were not the first to try writing information in the form of artificial DNA. First, the researchers have greatly increased the stored data volume, to MB. However, what is really new here is that they have proposed a way of reading part of the DNA, approximately bases bio-bits long, in each sequencing operation.
The researchers were able to achieve that by using pairs of primers and markers that enable them to read a certain set of nucleotides with a defined offset from the beginning of the strand. Researchers believe that the main niche for such DNA memory could be high-density long-term memory modules. It definitely makes sense: At the same time, DNA is quite a stable molecule.
Coupled with built-in redundant coding and error-correction schemes, data on it would remain readable years or even centuries after it being written. But what does it all mean from an information security standpoint? It means that the integrity of information stored in such a way may be threatened by organisms that have specialized in data corruption for billions of years — viruses. For example, polymerase will gladly replicate any DNA in the solution: So it may be worth noting if anyone was sneezing or coughing while you were writing an important file….
Why it's too late to DeleteFacebook. How good of a CISO are you? How much do you know about DDoS? Sergey Lurye 6 posts. Back to basics December 6, News Technology. Inside DNA DNA, which stands for deoxyribonucleic acid, is the largest molecule in our organism, and a carrier of genetic information.
How scientists read DNA Through the past few centuries, scientists have developed methods to determine the structure of minuscule objects, such as X-ray structure analysis, mass spectrometry, and a family of spectroscopy methods. Back to viruses But what does it all mean from an information security standpoint?
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