Scientists Are Coding an Electronic Music Masterpiece Into DNA So It Can Last Forever

April 24, 2018, 11:17 AM UTC
DNA Double Helix model with US paper currency
Photograph by Jon Boyes — Getty Images

Massive Attack’s Mezzanine is a classic electronic music album. It’s also now 20 years old and, to celebrate that fact, the British trip-hop act is having it preserved using a deeply unconventional technique.

While CDs only last a few decades, DNA—yes, the same stuff that contains our genetic instructions—is thought to be “readable” for over a million years, if stored in the right conditions. So Mezzanine is going to be stored in DNA molecules, encased in tiny glass beads.

The scientists who will do the encoding work at the Functional Materials Laboratory at ETH Zurich, a Swiss university. According to Robert Grass, a professor at the lab, their technique should ensure the album lasts for “hundreds to thousands of years.”

“While the information stored on a CD or hard disk is a sequence of zeros and ones, biology stores genetic information in a sequence of the four building blocks of DNA: A, C, G and T,” said Grass.

Mezzanine will be cut down to 15 megabytes using the Opus music compression format, and the data will be split into 920,000 fragments, each of which will be encoded in a short DNA strand. The scientists will then pour the DNA into 5,000 nanometer-sized glass beads. All of this will apparently take a month or two to accomplish.

While this appears to be the first time an album is being preserved in DNA, Massive Attack masterpiece isn’t entirely breaking new ground on this front. A couple years back, Microsoft (MSFT) and University of Washington researchers said they had written a whole music video from the stunt-tastic band OK Go into a 200-megabyte cache of DNA-encoded data.

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