Data Storage With DNA

Current data storage will eventually fail. Data on hard drives, servers and other current storage techniques have a limited useful life of approximately 50 years. Conversely, DNA found in a fossil that is thousands of years old is still preserved and can be read to provide information. Because of this, scientists began looking at DNA as a means of data storage.

Because DNA can store large quantities of information in a small amount of space, it is an excellent candidate for data preservation. Unfortunately, DNA is subject to chemical degradation. Also, the methods of translating information to or from DNA are newer and somewhat primitive. Therefore, errors can occur when DNA is being read or written.

However, scientists have recently discovered a solution to these problems. DNA is encapsulated in a small silica sphere. Algorithms are used to correct any sequencing errors. This “synthetic fossil” protects the DNA inside. The DNA can be extracted from the silica glass using a fluoride solution and read. Researchers have also added “backup data” within the same synthetic fossil in case of errors.

To simulate the wear and tear to DNA over hundreds of years (or chemical degradation), the synthetic fossils were tested by storing them in extremely high temperatures. The results were that the DNA held up and scientists were still able to extract the information from the DNA even after exposure to the extremely high temperatures. It is estimated that data preserved using this method could last up to a million years.

An advantage to this form of storage is how little space is utilized. One gram of DNA storage is the equivalent of 14,000 Blu-Ray disc ROMs.

One challenge, like all methods of data storage, is that this method will be subject to coding obsolescence. In other words, the methods used to transfer information to DNA will change over the years. As the methods evolve, the information written using earlier methods may become unreadable.

I think the benefits of practically unlimited data storage which will eventually be very affordable and with an unlimited life outweigh the challenges. DNA storage has already been successfully used to store an audio recording of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, color photographs, and JPEG images, just to name a few examples. In my opinion, this is an exciting development not for only the biological scientist or computer scientist, but for anyone. Imagine fitting the entirety of the Dr. Who television series on one gram of DNA, with a lot of extra space for future seasons! I can see this technology being used to create a global archive of the collective knowledge of humanity – all information about anything, anywhere compressed into a warehouse full of DNA. Everyday uses might include unlimited storage for computers, phones, libraries, photo albums, video recordings and more.

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