DATA IN YOUR DNA ! Researchers have demonstrated that digi
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Chandrayee Pattanayak

Researchers have demonstrated that digital data can be stored in DNA .DNA is a good storage medium because data can be written into molecules more densely than the basic elements of conventional storage technologies can pack it in.

DNA is seen as a potential replacement for magnetic tape, which is the standard mechanism for long-term data stores today. Theoretically, according to the research, the process could store up to 300,000 terabytes of data in a fraction of an ounce of DNA — which could last for thousands of years. By comparison, today’s most powerful desktop hard drives hold around 6 terabytes of data, and might last 50 years.

Each DNA strand consists of just four base chemicals: (A)denine, (C)ytonine, (G)uanine and (T)hymine. Normal computer data consists of 1s and 0s. So, back in April, execs at Microsoft purchased 10 million strands of synthetic DNA from a company called Twist Bioscience. The idea was to test the process of storing digital content on the organic material. Microsoft first translated the 1s and 0s into a digital DNA sequence of letters. It gave that sequence to Twist and asked for synthetic biology duplication. Twist did that and gave the organic material to Microsoft for testing. Researchers at Microsoft and the University of Washington have reached an early but important milestone in DNA storage by storing a record 200 megabytes of data on the molecular strands.


Microsoft Corporation believes that its data center will contain a fully functional DNA storage system by the end of the decade, representing a potentially massive breakthrough in the tech industry battle to meet surging global demand for space-effective information storage solutions.

Employees of the Washington-based company confirmed these plans, which involve using the same molecules our genes are made of to store data, to the MIT technology Review, adding that the device will be about the same size as a large, 1970s-era Xeros copier.

The aim is a “proto-commercial system in three years storing some amount of data on DNA in one of our data centers, for at least a boutique application,” Doug Carmean, a partner architect at Microsoft Research, told the MIT Technology Review.

Microsoft eventually hopes to replace tape drives, the most common format used to archive information, with its own DNA storage system in the future.


To extract and access the files, a polymerase chain reaction is used to select the appropriate sequences. These are then read, and the ATCG molecules are turned back into data. Both Microsoft’s studies and a similar experiment run by Erlich lab  members Dina Zielinski and Yaniv Erlich (who also predicted DNA storage would be usable in about a decade) showed that the extracted content was error-free.

While the process has been refined, the cost and time of the procedure is impeding further development. The chemical process used to manufacture DNA strands is both laborious and expensive: the 13,448,372 unique pieces of DNA used in the Microsoft study would cost $800,000 on the open market. That research — while record breaking in quantity — “did not [show] any progress towards the goal” of increasing speed or decreasing cost, Elrich said in an interview

Elrich himself has proposed a novel modification to tackle the problem: replace the 40-year-old and time consuming process it currently takes to make DNA with one that uses enzymes, as our own bodies do.

As the the world’s population grows and becomes increasing relent on ever-advancing technology, it produces more and more data, all of which needs to be stored securely. DNA data storage could be the solution that allows the march of big data (which was recently estimated by some to be more valuable than oil) to continue unimpeded.

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