Synthetic DNA: the future of data storage?

Synthetic DNA: the future of data storage?

As part of the ACM International Conference on Architectural Support for Programming Languages ​​and Operating Systems, researchers from the University of Washington managed to store the equivalent of the content of 600 smartphones in a drop of synthetic DNA. In addition, Microsoft has just bought 10 million strands of this artificial molecule from Twist. Faced with the exponential increase in the global volume of data, this compact and durable storage medium may represent the future of storage.

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In 1956, just 60 years ago, IBM introduced the very first hard drive. This imposing device offered a storage capacity of 5 MB, roughly the size of an MP3 file. Since then, storage technologies have evolved at a breakneck pace.

Today, it is possible to store the entire history of humanity on a simple silicone chip. Last February, scientists from the University of Southampton managed to store the bible on a 5D hard disk 1 cm in diameter, with a storage capacity estimated at 14 billion years.

Currently, the majority of businesses and consumers store their data in the Cloud, using servers in Data Centers. Although practical and malleable, this modern technology still poses problems, particularly in terms of energy consumption, necessary space and security . Faced with these limits, large companies are still thinking about new storage media.

Nature is well made

The most viable solution for the future may well be to look for on the side of nature. Since time immemorial, the latter has enabled humans and all forms of life to remember the past of their species thanks to a molecule as compact as it is durable: DNA .

After many years of research, it is now possible to synthesize this molecule and use it to store all kinds of digital data. A single drop of synthetic DNA is capable of holding 10,000 GB for at least 500 years .

As part of the ACM International Conference on Architectural Support for Programming Languages ​​and Operating Systems, researchers from the University of Washington demonstrated this by encoding and then decoding the equivalent of the content of 600 smartphones into images, audio files and video in a drop of DNA.

What is synthetic DNA?

True DNA is a nucleic acid that consists of nitrogen base pairs called adenine, guanine, cytosine and thymine. To use it as a storage medium, the researchers managed to synthesize this molecule and to encode the digital data in the form of nitrogen bases . This data can then be decoded by a computer.

Theoretically, one cubic millimeter is enough to store 1 billion GB of data. Therefore, 16000 cubic millimeters would be enough to store all of the world’s digital data .

Microsoft buys 10 million strands

In order to perpetuate the data stored in its Data Centers without having to change the hard drives after a few years, Microsoft is taking a close interest in this new technology. The company has just reserved 10 million strands of personalized synthetic DNA with Twist Bioscience. The firm is responsible for converting the data transmitted by Microsoft into the form of nucleotides.

According to a press release from Twist Bioscience, the first tests went well. The data was easily encoded and decoded. However, this solution is still far from being democratized, in particular because of its cost.

If data encoding is relatively affordable, DNA sequencing is more expensive . In 2003, after 10 years of work, the human genome had been fully sequenced for $ 3 billion. Today, this operation would only cost 1000 dollars. Despite this drop in price, the tariff is still a problem for a large company.

When costs have dropped enough, synthetic DNA may well become the storage medium of the future.

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