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The research team’s method enables extensive information to be stored in a wide range of objects – in the same way as for living things: in DNA molecules. “With this method, we can integrate 3D printing instructions in an object, so that after decades or even centuries, it will be possible to obtain those instructions directly from the object itself,” explains Professor Robert Grass of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH). One of the reasons why this advance has been made possible is Grass’ method for marking products with a DNA ‘barcode’ embedded in nanoglass beads. This technology is being commercialized by ETH Zurich spin-off Haelixa. At the same time, another method has been developed that theoretically makes it possible to store 215,000 TB of data in one gram of DNA. Professor Grass has already successfully stored an entire music album in DNA.

Grass and Israeli computer scientist Yaniv Erlich have combined their approaches to create a new form of data storage, which they call the ‘DNA of Things’. As a tangible example, they are using a 3D printer to produce a rabbit that contains the instructions (about 100 KB worth of data) for printing the object. These instructions can be extracted and reused, like a genetic blueprint. “DNA is currently the only data storage medium that can also exist as a liquid, which allows us to insert it into objects of any shape,” says Erlich. In addition to 3D production, the technology could also be used to mark medications or construction materials.