Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Microsoft Looking at DNA Data Storage

How would you feel about donating some of your DNA to eventually be utilised as a personal storage space for all your digital data? The idea may seem a bit far-fetched, but Microsoft recently revealed that they are working on a system that, in theory, could make exactly what has just been described pretty routine at some point in the near future.

Microsoft has revealed a research project aimed at using strands of DNA for large-scale data storage. According to a report published by MIT Technology Review, the US-based software company expects to have a workable DNA data storage system in place by the end of this decade.

The system involves using individual strands of nucleic acids to store data as nucleic acid sequences in much the same way a magnetic strip stores data as sequences of positive and negative charges. The benefit of the DNA model is primarily one of capacity. As an example, a Harvard geneticist investigating the possibility of DNA data storage a number of years ago converted and stored his book on the subject using 55,000 DNA strands.

According to reports, a single gram of DNA is capable of holding 215 PB of data. For the record, a petabyte is 1 million GB. That is a tremendous volume of the data stored on something incredibly small. At the rate data is exploding these days, we are going to need something that impressive just to keep up with it all.

Overcoming Current Limits:

Using nucleic acids to store digital data is very promising in that proof of concept has already been established. But like any new technology, it is too cost prohibitive to be mainstream at the current time. There are some inherent limits to DNA data storage that must be overcome before you and I will be donating our own DNA to the cause.

Right now, the biggest challenge seems to be speed. Sending data to the storage system has been as slow as 400 bytes per second. In order to come up with a workable solution that could be embraced by the retail market, researchers have to get to at least to 100 MB per second. And as every year ticks by, that number will increase alongside other technologies.

The other big challenge is the price of materials. Researchers currently invest roughly £620,000 in the materials needed to build a DNA data storage and retrieval system. That cost is way too much to make for a feasible mass market product. The price will have to be reduced to several hundred dollars, at the most, if the idea is to ever be marketable.

Human DNA has been storing critical data since the dawn of man. How ironic it would be if we could take something as fundamental to our existence as DNA and use it to store and retrieve digital information that is becoming equally critical to our everyday lives. Microsoft hopes to make it happen within the next few years.

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