Solar-System DNA Library –The Ultimate Backup for Human Civilization’s Intellectual Property

 

Through massive replication around the solar system we will be able to guarantee that the DNA Lunar Library will never be lost – even millions to billions of years in the future, said Nova Spivack, co-founder and Chairman of the Arch Mission Foundation. “We can definitely preserve our unique cultural heritage and biological record in a way that will survive for millions to billions of years, and that has not been possible before. We see the Lunar Library as the ultimate in cold storage for human civilization.”

The Lunar Library will contain a backup of human civilization, using new forms of big data storage technology that are durable for up to billions of years on the Moon. Molecular storage in synthetic DNA is one of the new technologies that will be included in the Lunar Library.

The library is intended for future humans, in case civilization on Earth collapses was announced last week: an encyclopedia of images and data stored in DNA and shipped to the moon in 2020. As the cost of genetic sequencing has dropped dramatically in the last two decades, some researchers have touted the DNA found inside living cells as the data storage material of the future. DNA is very durable, and will last on the scale of millions of years.

The Lunar Library will include simple instructions for decoding its information and later building a gene sequencer to read its contents, meant to keep it simple for future finders. The foundation intends to seed not only the moon but many places in the solar system, starting with one inside the glove compartment of the red Tesla launched into a Mars deep orbit by Elon Musk’s SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket earlier this year.

The Arch Mission Foundation recently announced the “Arch Library in DNA Project” part of the Arch Mission Lunar Library initiative. The foundation, along with the University of Washington, Microsoft, and Twist Bioscience, intend to make a “special collection” of 20 books and more than 10,000 images, in what is billed as the largest ever encoded DNA data archive.

“DNA is so dense that we can store a lot of information in a single gram,” said University of Washington computer scientist Luis Ceze in a statement on the project. “This is huge because room is so limited in space missions.”

DNA storage is the answer to a uniquely 21st-century problem: information overload. Five years ago humans had produced 4.4 zettabytes of data; that’s set to explode to 160 zettabytes (each year!) by 2025. Current infrastructure can handle only a fraction of the coming data deluge, which is expected to consume all the world’s microchip-grade silicon by 2040.

“Today’s technology is already close to the physical limits of scaling,” says Victor Zhirnov, chief scientist of the Semiconductor Research Corporation. “DNA has an information-storage density several orders of magnitude higher than any other known storage technology.”

The basic process converts digital data’s strings of ones and zeroes into the four basic building blocks of DNA sequences: adenine, guanine, cytosine and thymine. The team is working with Twist Bioscience to create synthetic DNA molecules in a lab. This DNA doesn’t come from living organisms. Instead, it is synthesized from scratch base by base (letter by letter).

The basic process converts digital data’s strings of ones and zeroes into the four basic building blocks of DNA sequences: adenine, guanine, cytosine and thymine. The team is working with Twist Bioscience to create synthetic DNA molecules in a lab. This DNA doesn’t come from living organisms. Instead, it is synthesized from scratch base by base (letter by letter).

In space, stray cosmic rays could break DNA strands, making them unreadable. So Ceze and his team have been working on methods to ensure that they can still decode all the information, even if some of the DNA degrades.

The first method, called physical redundancy, involves adding multiple copies of each strand of DNA to the archive. So if one copy is destroyed, there are still many other copies with the same information. The team is considering adding billions of copies of each strand to account for degradation over time, Ceze said.

The second method, called logical redundancy, attaches information about the data within the DNA itself, like adding information about how two puzzle pieces go together. That way if all copies of a DNA strand go missing, the researchers can piece together what was lost and still get all of the data.

For example, to store two numbers — two and three — researchers would also store the information that two plus three equals five. So if something happened to the number two, the numbers five and three would still exist. That logic could be reversed to conclude that the missing information is five minus three — or two.

Now that the team is working with the Arch Mission Foundation, it has a strict deadline to finalize all packaging and storage plans: The Lunar Library is expected to be delivered to the surface of the moon by 2020.
In space, stray cosmic rays could break DNA strands, making them unreadable. So Ceze and his team have been working on methods to ensure that they can still decode all the information, even if some of the DNA degrades.

The first method, called physical redundancy, involves adding multiple copies of each strand of DNA to the archive. So if one copy is destroyed, there are still many other copies with the same information. The team is considering adding billions of copies of each strand to account for degradation over time, Ceze said.

The second method, called logical redundancy, attaches information about the data within the DNA itself, like adding information about how two puzzle pieces go together. That way if all copies of a DNA strand go missing, the researchers can piece together what was lost and still get all of the data.

For example, to store two numbers — two and three — researchers would also store the information that two plus three equals five. So if something happened to the number two, the numbers five and three would still exist. That logic could be reversed to conclude that the missing information is five minus three — or two.

The DNA archive will be added to a “Lunar Library,” first announced in May, in which portions of Wikipedia and other data sources are encoded on nickel plates.

Spivack pointed to climate change, nuclear weapons, natural disasters, and past cycles of mass extinctions as reasons to worry about preserving human civilization. However, some experts say the idea is bonkers.

“I think these people have watched too many Star Trek reruns,” Utah State University’s Joseph Tainter, author of The Collapse Of Complex Societies, told BuzzFeed.

“The factors that make society vulnerable to collapse and lead to the growth of civilization evolve in a complex fashion that evolve over generations,” Tainter said. “You can’t reassemble a civilization from scratch.”

Egypt was more than pyramids, and Silicon Valley is more than computer chips. From the dawn of civilization to today, complex societies have arisen through the interplay of particular cultures and technologies over generations in an interlinked fashion, Tainter said. You can’t plug bits and pieces of one vanished civilization into another to recreate a unique culture.

“My colleagues in archaeology cannot agree on the interpretation of ancient rock art,” he added, expressing doubt about a society recovering from collapse comprehending DNA technology.

The Daily Galaxy via Buzzfeed, Wired and University of Washington 

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