The Newest Data-Storage Device is DNA?

By Randy Weis

Molecular and DNA Storage Devices- “Ripped from the headlines!”

-Researchers used synthetic DNA encoded to create the zeros and ones of digital technology.

-MIT Scientists Achieve Molecular Data Storage Breakthrough

-DNA may soon be used for storage: All of the world’s information, about 1.8 zettabytes, could be stored in about four grams of DNA

Harvard stores 70 billion books using DNA: Research team stores 5.5 petabits, or 1 million gigabits, per cubic millimeter in DNA  storage medium

IBM using DNA, nanotech to build next-generation chips: DNA works with nanotubes to build more powerful, energy-efficient easy-to-manufacture chips

Don’t rush out to your reseller yet! This stuff is more in the realm of science fiction at the moment, although the reference links at the end of this post are to serious scientific journals. It is tough out here at the bleeding edge of storage technology to find commercial or even academic applications for the very latest, but this kind of storage technology, along with quantum storage and holographic storage, will literally change the world. Wearable, embedded storage technology for consumers may be a decade or more down the road, but you know that there will be military and research applications long before Apple gets this embedded in the latest 100 TB iPod. Ok, deep breath—more realistically, where will this technology be put into action first? Let’s see how this works first.

DNA is a three dimensional media, with density capabilities of up to a zettabyte in a millimeter volume. Some of this work is being done with artificial DNA, injected into genetically modified bacteria (from a Japanese research project from last year). A commercially available genetic sequencer was used for this.

More recently, researchers in Britain encoded the “I Have a Dream” speech and some Shakespeare Sonnets in synthetic DNA strands. Since DNA can be recovered from 20,000 year old wooly mammoth bones, this has far greater potential for long term retrievable storage than, say, optical disks (notorious back in the 90s for delaminating after 5 years).

Reading the DNA is more complicated and expensive, and the “recording” process is very slow. It should be noted that no one is suggesting storing data in a living creature at this point.

Molecular storage is also showing promise, in binding different molecules in a “supramolecule” to store up to 1 petabyte per square inch. But this is a storage media in two dimensions, not three. This still requires temperatures of -9 degrees, considered “room temperature” by physicists. This work was done in India and Germany. IBM is working with DNA and carbon nanotube “scaffolding” to build nano devices in their labs today.

Where would this be put to work first? Google and other search engines, for one. Any storage manufacturer would be interested—EMC DNA, anyone? Suggested use cases: globally and nationally important information of “historical value” and the medium-term future archiving of information of high personal value that you want to preserve for a couple of generations, such as wedding video for grandchildren to see.  The process to lay the data down and then to decode it makes the first use case of data archiving the most likely. The entire Library of Congress could be stored in something the size of a couple of sugar cubes, for instance.

What was once unthinkable (or at least only in the realm of science fiction) has become reality in many cases: drones, hand held computers with more processing power than that which sent man to the moon, and terabyte storage in home computers. The future of data storage is very bright and impossible to predict. Stay tuned.

Here is a graphic from Nature Journal (the Shakespeare Sonnets), “Towards practical, high-capacity, low-maintenance information storage in synthesized DNA”

Click here to learn more about how GreenPages can help you with your organization’s storage strategy

Other References:

Researchers used synthetic DNA encoded to create the zeros and ones of digital technology.

MIT Scientists Achieve Molecular Data Storage Breakthrough

DNA may soon be used for storage

Harvard stores 70 billion books using DNA

IBM using DNA, nanotech to build next-generation chips