Microsoft partners are hoping to create a time capsule on the moon

Original author: Matt Williams
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Time capsules are an interesting and time-tested way to preserve fragments of the past. In most cases, they include photographs, memorabilia and other valuable personal belongings, something that gives future generations an idea of ​​the life that was in their past. But what if we want to preserve the memory and experience of the whole species for thousands of years? What would we choose to zaryk it, and where would we put it?

This is what researchers from the Laboratory of Molecular Information Systems of the University of Washington and Microsoft conceived when they announced their #MemoriesInDNA project [DNA memories]. This project invites people to send photos that will be encoded in DNA and stored for millennia. And, thanks to the partnership with the foundationArch Mission , this capsule will go to the moon in 2020!

The project leaders want to include in this archive 10,000 original photos and the full text of the 20 most important books (as well as other materials), and save it in synthetic DNA, giving access to it to researchers from all over the world. DNA will be provided by the San Francisco-based company Twist Bioscience , which creates synthetic DNA for commercial partners conducting biotechnological research.

Members are encouraged to share photos on social networks with the #MemoriesInDNA hashtag, and describe why this photo is important to them. As Luis Tse , a professor at the Paul Allen School of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Washington, said of the project :
Now it's your turn to show us what you need to keep in DNA forever. We want people to take a photo of something that they want to keep in the memory of the world - this is an interesting opportunity to send a message to future generations and at the same time help our research.

Compared to data centers that require hectares of land and significant amounts of electricity, DNA offers a way to store data on a molecular scale. It is a storage medium that is several orders of magnitude denser, millions of times more compact, and can be stored much longer than ordinary analogs.

The process is based on the transformation of sequences of zeros and units into digital data stored in four basic building blocks of DNA sequences - adenine , guanine , cytosine and thymine . The project’s collection already contains over 3,000 images, including physical photographs, digital photographs, and pages stored on analog microfiches.representing the thinnest sheets of nickel.

“Nature managed to preserve information at the molecular level in DNA,” said Tse. - Our goal is to learn how to create revolutionary systems on this basis. “Memories in DNA” give everyone the opportunity to participate in the project and save valuable memories. And now outside the planet Earth! We are honored to be part of this incredible project. ”

Naturally, the question arises of how this DNA archive will be protected, being on the Moon, outside the protective magnetic field of the Earth. It is well known that cosmic rays adversely affect DNA, increase the risk of cancer among astronauts. In the case of an archive, cosmic rays can break down DNA molecular chains and make them unreadable.

To cope with this, Tsez and the team worked on methods that allow decryption of information, even if part of the DNA is degraded. The first method, physical redundancy, is to add several copies (perhaps even millions of copies) of each DNA chain to the archive to cope with degradation.

The second method, logical redundancy , was developed by Cese and other team members in partnership with Microsoft. This method involves attaching information about the data to the DNA itself. Then, even if all copies of the DNA chains disappear, the researchers will still be able to recover the lost.

The project was first announced in January 2018, and the University of Washington, together with Microsoft, has since organized a partnership with the Arch Mission Foundation . This non-profit foundation from Texas is dedicated to creating archives using various data storage methods that can survive a long stay in space or remote locations around the world (caves, under water, underground, etc.).

“Microsoft’s mission is to give every person and every organization on Earth an opportunity to achieve more,” said Karin Straus, Microsoft's principal investigator. “Collaboration with the Arch Mission Foundation for a lunar library project is a natural extension of this mission beyond the boundaries of the planet. By this we demonstrate the significance of human knowledge and the incredible density available when storing digital information in DNA. This work continues to push the boundaries of the possible in more and more interesting ways and in more and more remarkable directions. ”

The Foundation, taking advantage of the development of data storage systems and the emergence of commercial space flights, is trying to preserve and disseminate the most important knowledge of humanity. By storing them in space, the foundation hopes that these archives (known as Arch Libraries) will become the longest kept records of human civilization ever created.

This year, the foundation announced the creation of a " lunar library ", which by 2020 will post Wikipedia and other archival information on the moon. Now #MemoriesInDNA archive will be added to this archive, and all this information will become the largest amount of data ever recorded in synthetic DNA. As Nova Spivak, co-founder of the fund, said in a recent press release :
We are trying to create the largest library in DNA - and it will continue to grow along with the growth of our capabilities in the future, towards petabyte scales. We are proud that this addition to the “lunar library” - our first special collection - is based on our data preservation mission, which protects both classic works and precious memories. This data is a startling start to our special collections for the “lunar library” and a worthy continuation of the mission of the foundation, which opens new frontiers in the field of data preservation.

This photo of the moon is also included in the project #MemoriesInDNA

In case the one who finds the “library” does not have the necessary technology to access it, Arch Mission will attach DNA sequencing instructions and information to it. Thanks to a new partnership, a team of scientists is working on completing all the packaging and storage processes in order to be in time for the 2020 deadline.

Karin Straus, a principal Microsoft researcher, an associate professor in computer science and engineering at Washington University, described it this way:
We are proud that the partnership with the foundation continues to expand the boundaries of the possible in more and more interesting ways and in more and more remarkable directions. This is an incredibly interesting project, and we have a wonderful team of specialists from different fields working on it: coding theorists, computer architects, engineers, molecular biologists — they all together turn this new technology into reality.

Interestingly, the "lunar library" will not be the first archive launched into space. In February, the Arch Mission Foundation together with SpaceX launched the "solar library", a crystal containing the Founders trilogy of Isaac Asimov, which will be in orbit around the Sun for billions of years. In the future, they hope to send libraries to low Earth orbit and to various places around the world, to Mars and other places in the solar system.

Who knows - maybe someday humanity will become an interplanetary view and open countless time capsules describing life in the 21st century. Or, perhaps, our DNA archives will become something of a golden Voyager record, and will eventually fall into the hands of an extraterrestrial mind. Anyway, future generations who will open these archives will surely be intrigued by their find!

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