Can an individual’s own DNA be digitized? If so, could you keep it forever without it degrading? Could you do tests on the digital version alone without needing the physical material?


Sometimes forensic investigators bemoan the lack of “sufficient” DNA for testing.

Isn’t an individual’s entire genome embedded in each cell? So theoretically as long as you have a single cell of DNA and digitize it, that should be sufficient?

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Well yes, you could sequence a person’s entire genome. And then later if you wanted to do a specific genetic ‘test’ on that person, you wouldn’t necessarily need to collect a new sample and you could just compare it to the already sequenced genome. Of course, you might want to just get a new sample anyway because samples are easy to get, and most of the things that you want to test somebody’s genetics for are serious business that you want to be very certain about.

For many years people have been talking about a future of “genetic medicine” where we understand people’s genes and how they interact with different drugs and treatments such that we’ll be able to sequence the individual’s genome once, and then throughout their life they could receive treatments tailored to their genetics. We’re not quite there yet, but it’s possible in theory.

Examining DNA isn’t just going at it with a really big microscope and writing down what you see. It’s less like a book you can scan into a computer and more like a really fragile scroll that disintegrates shortly after opening. You can read a little bit at the place of your choosing, but to read anything elsewhere, you need a different copy.

Forensic analysis of DNA only focuses on a tiny fraction of the genome. It’s enough to identify a person but by no means exhaustive, like a fingerprint. And even for this, you need lots and lots of DNA to generate each “marker”