Researchers at Harvard University have recorded the first digital movie recording in the DNA of bacteria, including having successfully retrieved the recording for playback. This demonstration, along with earlier encoding experiments involving large volumes of text, proves that the massive data capacity of DNA — one gram of single-strand DNA can hold the equivalent of 455 exabytes, or roughly 100 billion DVDs — can reliably be used as a data-storage medium.

The film clip chosen for the experiment is a famous sequence called "The Horse in Motion", a series of 12 frames of a galloping horse created in 1878 by photographer Eadweard Muybridge — itself being the result of a scientific experiment aimed at determining whether or not a horse is fully airborne at any point while at a full gallop.

Five frames from the movie were digitized into grayscale images, then encoded into the DNA of more than 600,000 E. coli bacteria using the CRISPR DNA editing technique. The large number of cells involved was necessary because most of the individual bacteria wouldn’t be able to accurately record all of the information: the larger the number of cells involved, the more accurate the reconstruction of the film’s frames will be when retrieved.

Aside from the biological pirating of 19-century movies, the researchers envision expanded research into neurology as one possible application for this encoding technique. 

"Right now, we can measure one neuron at a time with electrodes, but 86 billion electrodes would not fit in your brain," explains Dr. George Church, a geneticist with Harvard Medical School. But a swarm of bacteria that had been altered to examine and record the activity of the individual neurons of the host brain would "fit very nicely."