Sequencing technology is now able to retrieve data written into DNA strands.
DNA has proven to be a very compact and much more durable alternative to present means of storage. Researchers from Columbia University and the New York Genome Center have reported a way to retrieve data stored on nucleotides without errors.
Yaniv Erlich and Dina Zielinski wrote six different files into 72,000 DNA strands with 200 bases each. They compressed the files into one, then broke it down to short strings of binary code. The next step was mapping the code into the nucleotide bases. By synthesizing nucleotides containing the files, Erlich and Zielinski were able to store the data into the strands. “To pack the information, we devised a strategy—called DNA Fountain—that uses mathematical concepts from coding theory,” says Erlich.
The researchers, amazingly, were able to retrieve the files from the strands without any errors. With the use of sequencing technology, they read the DNA strands and used a software to translate the information. Once the data were back in binary code, the researchers were able to access the files they stored.
Erlich and Zielinski recognize that world is producing more and more data each day. It might soon be overwhelming for the traditional media storage we use today. The aim of their study is to find a way to keep up with these massive amounts of information. “Traditional data storage technologies has dramatically slowed over the last five years,” Erlich claims. DNA might just be the key to storing large amounts of information in a very tiny physical space. Imagine storing terabytes of data in a microscopic speck instead of a heavy hard drive.
Traditional media also inevitably becomes obsolete. DNA, as an essential part of biology, isn't going anywhere. Archaeological findings prove time and again that in the right conditions, genetic information can last for hundreds of thousands of years. There's also very little chance that humanity will lose its ability to read genetic code. It makes sense, therefore, that DNA is the next step in media storage.
Will this kind of storage be available to the public? Erlich answers that it might take a decade or so before the technology is available to all. There are also some roadblocks that might slow this development. Cost is probably the biggest problem that researchers have to face. It costs a total of $9,000 just to synthesize and read DNA. Investments can help lower the costs, but investors might not be too keen on risking a lot of money.
Of course, researchers remain optimistic. The traditional media storage devices we use today also took years to develop, and they probably cost a lot, too. Fortunately, there is already an established body of knowledge and technology that can help develop the use of DNA. Molecular biology has grown in leaps and bounds over the years, and it offers ways to manipulate genetic code. In a decade or so, we might see the first prototypes of DNA storage available for public consumption.
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