Advances in DNA for Data Storage

Scientists have made a major step forward in efforts to store information as molecules of DNA - sounds like science fiction well actually it's really happening.


This form of storing data is more compact and long-lasting than other options.



On Earth right now, there are about 10 trillion gigabytes of digital data, and every day, humans produce emails, photos, tweets, and other digital files that add up to another 2.5 million gigabytes of data. Much of this data is stored in enormous facilities known as exabyte data centers (an exabyte is 1 billion gigabytes), which can be the size of several football fields and cost around $1 billion to build and maintain.


The magnetic hard drives we currently use to store computer data can take up lots of space.


And they have to be replaced over time.


Using life's preferred storage medium to back up our precious data would allow vast amounts of information to be archived in tiny molecules.


As the amount of data being generated and processed grows, so does the demand for storing data. Over 60% of retained data is stored in colder storage technologies


The digital universe could add some 175 zettabytes of data per year by 2025, according to the market-analysis firm IDC. That’s 175 with 21 zeroes after it. That amount of information will require massive data centres and vast energy resources to maintain. A small but growing group of researchers advocates DNA as a sustainable, stable replacement.


The process of DNA data storage combines DNA synthesis, DNA sequencing and an encoding and decoding algorithm to pack information into DNA more durably and at higher density than is possible in conventional media. That could be up to 17 exabytes per gram


Karin Strauss from Microsoft Research and Luis Ceze from the University of Washington gave a good overview of DNA storage at the SDC. The data is stored in synthetic DNA strands and can potentially provide the highest density storage and a shelf life of over 1,000 years as shown below.


Using life's preferred storage medium to back up our precious data would allow vast amounts of information to be archived in tiny molecules.


The data would also last thousands of years, according to scientists.


A team in Atlanta, US, has now developed a chip that they say could improve on existing forms of DNA storage by a factor of 100.


"So once we add all the control electronics - which is what we're doing over the next year of the program - we expect something like a 100x improvement over existing technology for DNA data storage."

DNA storage has a higher error rate than conventional hard drive storage. In collaboration with the University of Washington, GTRI researchers have come up with a way of identifying and correcting those errors.


The work has been backed by the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA), which supports science geared towards overcoming challenges relevant to the US intelligence community.