Over the past century, technology has made leaps and bounds, and the music industry has done its best to keep up with the times. While jokes are frequently made about the death of the CD, cassette, and 8-track players (and debatably vinyl, though that’s a different conversation), these formerly lauded technologies were all thrown to the wayside as new, more efficient music technologies were developed. Looking to the future, it’s anyone’s guess what new technology may be developed that will revolutionize the music world once again, but could the answer be within ourselves already—literally?

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Researchers at a lab specializing in DNA synthesis, Twist Bioscience, have recently made history with their brand-new project. Working with Microsoft and the University of Washington, the researchers at Twist Bioscience made waves by their successful use of DNA to store archival-quality audio recordings long term for the first time ever—specifically, the researchers encoded recordings of Miles Davis’ “Tutu” and Deep Purple’s “Smoke On The Water” from the Montreux Jazz Festival archives.


[Video: T. U. M.]

Currently, digital audio uses binary code to capture and record soundwaves. In order to record audio onto synthetic DNA, the binary code representing sound is converted into the language of DNA. For those of us who may need to brush up on their high school science, DNA is built out of strands of four different nucleotide bases—adenine, cytosine, guanine, and thymine, which are commonly represented by the letters A, C, G, and T. The unique order and arrangement of these bases is what informs how organisms grow and serves as a roadmap to the body. When using DNA to store music, the size of the information is reduced significantly. As Karin Strauss, Ph.D., a senior research at Microsoft, notes, “The amount of DNA used to store these songs is much smaller than one grain of sand. . . . Amazingly, storing the entire six petabyte Montreux Jazz Festival’s collection would result in DNA smaller than one grain of rice.”

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In addition to a reduction in the size needed to store information, the researchers also argue that this method will be the future of digital storage. The group claims that the majority of the world’s data is being stored on technology that is unlikely to last longer than a few decades, and that DNA storage has the potential to outlast any existing data storage systems to date. Twist Bioscience explained, “Where the very best conventional storage media may preserve their digital content for a hundred years under precise conditions, synthetic DNA preserves its information content for hundreds or thousands of years.”

The well-decorated musician and producer Quincy Jones—who has long been associated with the Montreaux Jazz Festival—also issued a statement about this new technology, “With the unreliability of how archives are often stored, I sometimes worry that our future generations will be left without such access. I’m proud to know that the memory of this special place will never be lost.”

[H/T Pitchfork]