3D model printed using data stored inside itself.

Scientists may just have come up with a plot device for the next instalment of the Bourne movie franchise, in the form of a plastic bunny and a rather innocuous-looking pair of spectacles.

The story, which is published in Nature Biotechnology, begins with the rabbit.

Yaniv Erlich, a computational biologist working from the Erlich Lab LLC in Raanana, Israel, led a team that 3D printed a version of the Stanford Bunny. That’s a stock standard crouching rabbit used as a benchmark shape for testing computer graphics.

So far so unremarkable.

But they printed it using data stored on DNA inside the bunny itself. And that, to avoid a nasty case of brain fade, requires a bit of unravelling.

DNA has been touted as the solution to the world’s imminent data storage woes: the voracious appetite of the Information Age will soon gobble up the storage potential of hard drives and magnetic tape, which can only be miniaturised so far.

DNA holds the blueprint for life itself, so the idea is to repurpose that mega storage capacity for more mundane stuff like videos, books and the like.

To see how that might be done, you need to know that bits of data, in the form of 1’s and 0’s, can be neatly represented by the four DNA bases Adenine (A), Cytosine (C), Guanine (G), and Thymine (T) as 00, 01, 10 and 11.

The sequence 011100 would, for example, make the short DNA sequence CTA.

Getting your head around that makes it possible to see the myriad combinations of A, C, T and G in a strand of DNA could store quite a lot of data.

Putting an exact number on it, 215 Petabytes of data can fit in a gram of DNA. On one estimate, that’s enough to store all the music made in the last 2000 years.

Erlich’s team set out to get proof of concept for that theory, and more.

Read the full story in Cosmos magazine here