I wonder if it is possible to encode useful information -- such as messages, books, scientific formulas, medical records, etc. -- in a living person's DNA. Ideally this would have to be done in such a manner as to not cause any harm to the organism. This technology could have many uses. It also begs the question -- "Is there already a message stored in our DNA?" It might be worth a look! If this technology is possible then someday we could potentially carry all our data with us, in our own DNA -- we could all become walking libraries!...
I wonder what the information carrying capacity of human DNA is -- particularly the junk-DNA region? Given that this is technically feasible, the next logical question is "is there already a message in there?" Now that we've decoded the Genome, we should probably at least look.
I suggest having our best NSA crypto computer analyze the junk-DNA region of the human genome to see if there is anything that could be a message already stored there. A good cross-section of DNA samples should be looked at from different ethnic groups. It might be useful to look at aboriginal DNA, Icelandic DNA, Tibetan DNA, as well as DNA from other populations that have relatively non-diverse gene pools. In addition, it would be interesting to look at DNA of so-called "ancient" ethnic groups or populations such as South Pacific islanders, middle eastern groups, South American groups, African groups, etc. My hypothesis is that if there is a message there, it would be easier to find and less subject to mutations or scrambling in the DNA of populations that have either been isolated from other populations and/or have refrained from intermarriage with outside cultures. This would only be necessary however if messages are only in the DNA of certain populations, or if there are different messages in different populations.
Wouldn't it be interesting if there was a single message that was partitioned across the DNA of all the different races on Earth? That would end racism once and for all. What if important parts of the message are actually in the DNA of other non-human species -- such as whales and dolphins, etc.? Could this provide yet another reason to be concerned about extinctions?
Is there a way to store information in the so-called "junk DNA" regions. If we could do this, people could become virtual walking libraries! Even more interesting, there would be the possibility that these libraries could be passed down to their offspring, creating lineages of library-holders. I can envision families or castes someday specializing in carrying particular types of information. This is WAY better than Napster -- we're talking massive replication.
One challenge would be writing to DNA effectively. Obviously gene therapy using a benign virus would be one approach. Another approach would be to simply write to the DNA in some limited region of the body, for example, the DNA in a finger, or an eye. This would reduce the problem of having to get the new data into massive numbers of cells. On the other hand, unless the DNA was replicated to the sperm or egg cells it would not be passed down. So there is a tradeoff here.
This technology could have many uses for present-day humans (for example, to carry important data around), as well as for future generations (for example, this might be a way to store the Genesis Backup, see my previous post). What's nice about this method of storing information is that it guarantees that wherever a person is, they have access to their data. But let's take this a step further and extrapolate over millions or even hundreds of millions of years -- perhaps by that time humans will have colonized the galaxy to such an extent that at least some human colonies will have lost touch with the rest of the species. By encoding knowledge in human DNA we could guarantee that all humans, wherever they end up, would have access to this basic shared knowledgebase, even millions of years in the future (depending on the rate of mutations and redundancy of the data). It would also guaranteed that only human civilizations that had reached a sufficient level of technological advancement would be able to find the message, thus providing an effective safety-lock and self-selection mechanism to protect primitive civilizations from finding it before they are ready to handle the content.
Who knows... maybe we already have some important knowledge encoded in our DNA...maybe some long-lost civilization put something there for us to find when we evolved the technological means to do so. It's an interesting possibility, and one that could easily be tested scientifically.