Storing data on DNA

For a breakthrough on data storage capacity, think about storing bits and bytes on DNA.

I have no idea what the technology is, but scientists have written data to DNA and read it back successfully.

An article from describes Harvard cracks the data storage, crams 700 TB of data into a single gram.

DNA stores information using just four different chemicals. T, G, A, and C. I’m beyond my knowledge base now in case you didn’t already know. Electronic storage uses two values (0 and 1). Just interpret the T/G/A/C values for 0/1, and you can “write” data to a DNA strand.

In terms of storage, consider this:

One gram of DNA can store 700 terabytes of data. That’s 14,000 50-gigabyte Blu-ray discs… in a droplet of DNA that would fit on the tip of your pinky. To store the same kind of data on hard drives — the densest storage medium in use today — you’d need 233 3TB drives, weighing a total of 151 kilos. In Church and Kosuri’s case, they have successfully stored around 700 kilobytes of data in DNA — Church’s latest book, in fact — and proceeded to make 70 billion copies (which they claim, jokingly, makes it the best-selling book of all time!) totaling 44 petabytes of data stored.

The Economist discusses Test-tube data. They report on separate research at a British university. They have also successfully written data to DNA and read it back.

The article discusses the technology in more detail than I can absorb. Also points out a lot of challenges with using this other than as an experiment. I would guess the same things were also said about color laser printers when they were being developed.

One of the huge issues is cost. The research team estimates storage would be about $12,400 per megabyte. The first external hard drive I saw in a search at Amazon showed price of $110 for 3 terabyte. That’s 1% of the cost for about 3 million times more capacity.

Price spread is a factor of, oh, about 354 million times more expensive. But that’s okay. A few years of experimenting will change that radically.

The Wall Street Journal describes the same work in Storing Digital Data in DNA.

The researchers encoded Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech and Shakespeare’s’ sonnets. They claim 99.99% accuracy in retrieval.

Very cool.

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