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Tech Turns to Biology as Data Storage Needs Explode

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A DNA strand.

Several technology companies are investing in the development of DNA data storage.

Credit: Endai Huedl

Several technology companies are investigating DNA data storage, including Microsoft Research, which announced in May it would commission Twist Bioscience to manufacture 10 million DNA strands designed by Microsoft researchers to store data.

"We're producing a lot more data than the storage industry is producing devices for, and projections show that this gap is expected to widen," says Microsoft's Karin Strauss.

Theoretically, DNA can store billions of gigabytes of data in the volume of a sugar crystal, which can last centuries if kept cold and dry. Data can be written by synthesizing designer DNA strands, while sequencing them reads the data, according to researchers.

At the ACM conference on Architectural Support for Programming Languages and Operating Systems (ASPLOS 2016) in April, Strauss and University of Washington scientists Georg Seelig and Luis Ceze presented research detailing how they wrote three image files, each a few tens of kilobytes in size, in 40,000 DNA strands using their own encoding scheme, and then read them individually with no errors. The Twist Bioscience project is an attempt to prove DNA data storage can work on a bigger scale.

Meanwhile, Micron Technology is investigating DNA as a post-silicon data storage material that is error-free, but most experts agree the cost of writing data to DNA is still prohibitive.

From Scientific American
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Abstracts Copyright © 2016 Information Inc., Bethesda, Maryland, USA


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