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  • Tanish Kothari

DNA-The Future of Data Storage

Hypothetically, if the world we know today was set back to the stone age because of a colossal destruction of a short, where or how would the information collected by us be preserved ? And more importantly, how would we binge watch the new season of ‘Stranger Things’ ?


One of the most exotic solutions might turn out to be one of the best - archiving data in DNA molecules! The prevailing long-term data-storage methods, which dates back to the early 1950’s, writes data to huge hard-discs, computers or magnetic tapes which are very expensive and are incapable of storing large amounts of data even after which it can be easily destroyed.


By comparison, DNA storage is less expensive, more energy efficient and longer lasting. The data stored on computers, discs and magnetic tapes only last for a few decades before degrading and becoming unreliable. Meanwhile DNA has a half life of five hundred years and if stored in a cold and dark environment DNA could be stored for hundreds of thousands of years. DNA doesn’t require maintenance, and files stored in DNA are easily copied for negligible costs. Even better, DNA can archive a stupefying amount of data in an almost unimaginably small volume. Considering this, humanity will generate an estimated 33 zettabytes of data by 2025 that is 3.3 followed by 22 zeros! DNA storage can squeeze all that data in a ping-pong ball with room to spare!


When we think of DNA, we always think of life and genes, not computers. But DNA itself is a four letter code for passing along information about an organism. DNA molecules are made up of four types of bases, each identified by a letter : Adenine(A), Thymine(T), Guanine(G) and Cytosine(C). They are the bases of all DNA code, consisting of the instruction manual for building every living thing on earth.


The technique of storage organizes the bases into various arrangements indicated by specific sequences of A’s, G’s, T’s and C’s which are called codons. These bases wrap in a twisted chain around each other - the familiar double helix - to form a molecule. On the other hand, all data is stored in binary form represented by 0’s and 1’s. So anything that can be stored as 0’s and 1’s can be stored in DNA. We just have to convert our data, all those 0’s and 1’s into A’s , C’s, G’s and T’s and when we want to recover the data, we can simply sequence it back into its original form.


The method has proven to work, but reading and writing the DNA-Encoded files currently takes a long time. Appending a single base into DNA takes about one second. Writing an archive file at this rate would take decades, but research is developing faster methods, including massively parallel operations that write too many molecules at once. At least it is not science fiction!




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