Earlier this year iconic British electronic music group Massive Attack revealed it was storing its classic album Mezzanine in DNA molecules. Now, it has been announced the synthetic DNA will be available in a limited release of spray paint cans, with each spray can estimated to contain around one million copies of the album.
For the last few years scientists have been exploring ways to harness the immense storage capacity of DNA. In 2012 a Harvard professor demonstrated the process by encoding a book into DNA, resulting in the equivalent of 70 billion HTML copies of the text being transferred into around one gram of DNA.
More recently, a team from ETH Zurich developed a process that encapsulates the synthetic DNA in 150-nanometer silica spheres, protecting the DNA from environmental degradation. In April of this year the ETH Zurich team took on the challenge of encoding Massive Attack's classic album Mezzanine using this technique.
"This digital bitstream of the album (0s and 1s) was first translated to 901'065 DNA sequences (A, C, T and Gs), each 105 characters long," says ETH Zurich's Robert Grass, explaining the encoding process. "The 901'065 individual sequences were then chemically synthesized resulting in a synthetic DNA sample, which fully represents the digital bitstream of the album."
After encapsulating the DNA in tiny synthetic glass beads they were added to spray paint. As well as producing a limited number of DNA-encoded spray cans, the DNA paint will be used to produce a small number of ink-jet printed artworks.
"We ensured that every spray can contains at least 0.1 micrograms of the synthetic DNA, which is equivalent to 1 million copies of the album," says Grass. "This is only possible due to the immense data capacity of DNA (about 100 exabytes per gram)."
At this stage it's unclear exactly how much one of these data-laden cans of spray paint will cost, but the band suggests a limited number will be produced and shipped by the end of the year. Founding member of the band Robert Del Naja, also a graffiti artist, amusingly says the unique characteristics of the DNA spray paint will not exactly be broadly adopted by street artists.
"It's an interesting way to vandalize your back catalogue," says Del Naja, "although DNA-encoded spray paint is unlikely to be adopted by street artists seeking anonymity."
Source: Massive Attack Facebook
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