The Cloud from DNA

Is the DNA memory coming? Current developments show that data storage in DNA strings is not an absurd idea.

The Cloud from DNA

Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA) is a storage medium in which animal and human genetic material is stored. Researchers have been working on using DNA as a storage medium for data for quite some time. 

As early as the late 1990s, geneticists investigated the DNA of extinct species by analyzing the hair and bones of animals that had been preserved for thousands of years. This happened at a time when data from computers was stored on floppy disks with a capacity of just 1.44 megabytes. Today, this is about the same amount of data as a selfies. Nevertheless, the diskettes of that time are regarded as a historical rarity, since their storage capacity compared to today not only seems tiny, but also the recovery of the data on them seems almost impossible due to a lack of reading capability.

DNA as a future storage medium for data

According to experts, humanity will soon generate more data than can be stored on hard disks or magnetic tapes. DNA is an ideal storage medium because it allows compact data to be backed up and molecules can even be stored for hundreds or thousands of years, as these prehistoric finds prove. Fossils prove how durable the material is.

History has also shown that DNA is not an outdated, outdated medium. The genetic molecules can also be used to make any number of copies because they are constantly multiplied in nature by the polymerase chain reaction. Another advantage is the enormous amount of storage. One cubic millimetre of DNA can store one billion gigabytes of data. It would be possible to store the entire Internet in a memory the size of a shoe box. 

Microsoft introduces DNA storage

US researchers have presented a system that can automatically store and read data in DNA. Microsoft Research developed a system in cooperation with the University of Washington in Seattle. However, writing and reading speeds still leave a lot to be desired. In order to prove that the system works, the researchers had placed the word "hello" in strands of artificial DNA and made it readable again in the next step. According to Microsoft, this was an important step from a laboratory application to a production-ready application. All data was stored in a DNA strand by converting zeros and ones of digital data into the bases of DNA adenine (A), cytosine (C), guanine (G) and thymine (T). DNA strands were then produced and stored in a vessel. 

Microsoft has been researching the storage of artificially produced DNA for several years. In 2016, it succeeded in storing 200 MBytes of data in DNA. What was a record at the time has now been surpassed by the amount of one GByte. 

In order to retrieve the stored data, the DNA was read. The data obtained was converted into a format that could be understood by a computer. However, the process is still slow. It takes about 21 hours to store five bytes of data. The subsequent readout takes six minutes. 

Objectives and perspectives

The aim is to develop a cloud storage system that offers the user a service comparable to that of today. Data is sent to the data center, stored there and made available again to the customer on demand. One gram of DNA can store 215 petabytes of data. In purely mathematical terms, the limit is 1.8 bits per module, with the "DNA Fountain" method developed by researchers even reaching 1.6 bits. 

The biosphere becomes a gigantic supercomputer whose information memory would be the DNA and in which the computing power is transported at the same speed as genetic information is translated into proteins. All living beings become storages, connected by mutual relationships and biochemical connections in a global network.           

Date: 30 October 2019, 10:10 am   |   Author: ED
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