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The Future of DNA: Digital Storage

The Future of DNA: Digital Storage
August 04
17:56 2016

Think about how many computers you have used and stored documents on in your lifetime. And how inconvenient it is to switch your content over to a new device? Cloud systems have made this easier, but it’s not as easy as it should be.

Luckily, Microsoft Research is investigating a way to store digital information into our DNA. Although it would be great to keep your college thesis with you forever, researchers are focusing on companies and institutions first before individual use.

Organizations are generating data much faster than it can be stored. Not to mention, technology moves so fast, that storage like tapes and disks quickly become obsolete. So scientists are trying to developed a long-term solution.

DNA is the ultimate information storage system, specifically it is defined as “a self-replicating material present in nearly all living organisms as the main constituent of chromosomes. It is the carrier of genetic information.”

Researchers are trying to mimic the way DNA stores information. But, DNA and digital currently have different codes.

“Converting digital information to DNA involves translating between the two codes. In one lab, for example, a capital A can become ATATG. The idea is once that transformation is made, strings of DNA can be custom-made to carry the new code, and hence the information that code contains,” writes Sci-Tech Today.

One of the advantages of DNA data storage is that data could be stored, recovered and read for thousands of years.

Also, DNA requires minimal space. To put things in perspective, one cell in our body can store fix feet of data space, that’s billions of miles in one person.

But rewriting digital code to DNA is easier said than done. Scientists have to custom-make DNA.

“Twist Bioscience of San Francisco used a machine to create the strings letter by letter, like snapping together Lego pieces to build a tower. The machine can build up to 1.6 million strings at a time,” writes Sci-Tech Today. “Each string carried just a fragment of information from a digital file, plus a chemical tag to indicate what file the information came from. To read a file, scientists use the tags to assemble the relevant strings. A standard lab machine can then reveal the sequence of DNA letters in each string.”

This data storing wouldn’t be used to replace hard drive just yet because as you can tell it takes a long time to read.

Microsoft announced that a team had stored 200 megabytes (100 books) though DNA. This is just 5% of the capacity of a DVD though, so there is still a long way to go. With that being said, DNA storage is most likely in the distant future.

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