Microsoft recently announced that it successfully managed to store 200 MB of data on strands of synthetic DNA, setting a record 10 times bigger than the previous accomplishment of this kind.
Earlier this year, Microsoft Research inked a deal with startup Twist Bioscience to purchase 10 million custom-made synthetic DNA sequences. The global company aims to pioneer in the field of replacing electronics memory cards with DNA-based storage, and there is a good reason for it.
Blu-Ray discs and HDDs do not hold a candle to DNA storage, as the latter can remain readable and intact for a time of 1,000 to 10,000 years.
Microsoft started by encoding and decoding a number of humanity’s essential works into the DNA strands, eventually storing more than 100 books on DNA. Examples of archived materials are the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (versions translated in more than 100 languages), Project Guttenberg’s top 100 public domain books and the Crop Trust’s seed database. Last, but not least, Microsoft bundled an HD music video of OK Go’s This Too Shall Pass into a DNA strand.
When questioned about the particular video, Microsoft pointed out that the clip contains Rube Goldberg-inspired machinery, meaning that the musicians had to rely on a lot of cross-disciplinary help to put it all together.
“They’re very innovative and are bringing different things from different areas into their field and we feel we are doing something very similar,” says Karin Strauss, the helm of the Microsoft Research DNA storage project.
Microsoft Research itself attracted a number of computer scientists and biologists from Twist and the University of Washington to make advances in the DNA storage field.
It is far from random that books and videos were the first to be encoded in the project. Microsoft acknowledges that the technology is ever evolving, but through the selection it wants to underline that culture must be preserved over millennia.
Keep in mind that Microsoft’s tiny 200 MB is just scratching the surface of what can be done with DNA storage in the future. Simply imagine that in a few years we could see an Exabyte (that’s 1 million terabytes) being preserved on a surface no larger than a tip of a pencil.
Some technical challenges exist, such as the high price for the technology and the still imperfect methods of reading the data. However, one the DNA storage will be stable and financially feasible, it could be a game changer for the whole tech industry.
Strauss emphasizes that DNA storage will first come handy in areas where large archives are common, such as servers holding medical data or numerous video files.
9 July 2016