Researchers at Harvard Medical School have encoded a full-length HTML ebook, including rich formatting, images, and even JavaScript, entirely in DNA. Their report, published today in Science, attempts to prove that DNA is not only a viable digital storage medium, but that it offers a much higher density than a conventional hard drive. George Church, a member of the Harvard research team, encoded a draft of his 5.27 Mbit ebook using off-the-shelf DNA synthesis machines, resulting in 54,898 strands of DNA 159 nucleotides long. The book can then be decoded using the same DNA sequencing techniques commonly practiced in undergraduate biology labs and hospitals.

The researchers caution that, because of the slow and costly nature of DNA sequencing, their technique isn't appropriate for active computer storage. However, they argue that the durable nature of DNA molecules could be an effective long-term storage option for archiving large amounts of data in an exceptionally small amount of space. As expensive as DNA sequencing may be, the researchers' technique may be cheaper than etching data onto a $30,000 sapphire disc.