Microsoft Is Using DNA to Solve Our Impending Data Storage Crisis

Joanna Estrada
March 24, 2019

Wikipedia has an interesting page chronicling much of the history behind these efforts, among which being research published by George Church at Harvard University in 2012 which involved the encoding of digital information into DNA including a 53,400 word book, 11 JPG images and JavaScript program.

While the team considered that a success for their prototype, to be commercially useful, a DNA storage system would have store data millions of times faster.

Some computer scientists are anxious that our ability to create data will eventually outstrip our ability to store it, so Microsoft is looking at ways to store that data in DNA. To fill in the gap, researchers produced algorithms and molecular computing technologies which could encode and retrieve data.

"To do that, we needed to prove that this is practical from an automation perspective".

Microsoft believes synthetic DNA could be the next big leap in long-term data storage, with just one gram of DNA capable of storing 215 petabytes of data for up to 2,000 years.

With a successful test completed, one of the next challenges is developing a way to search using DNA molecules. That said, the system can be encrypted before it gets sent to a computer system. According to the researchers, new technology trends suggest that there's already progress toward that direction.

Previous attempts to use DNA for data storage have resulted in greater amounts of information being written, such as but this process has generally been done by hand in a lab, which isn't feasible for real world use cases involving large scale data storage. They modeled the original DNA contained in living creatures, noting that DNA persisted in not so flawless conditions for thousands of years in mammoth tusks and bones of the earliest humans on Earth, so should be relevant for a long time yet. It involves taking the 1's and 0's of digital information and converting them into the A's, T's, C's, and G's that DNA is made of by using the required liquids and chemicals that are used to manufacture the snippets and store them in a storage device.

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