Will DNA Overtake Hard Drives?
“DNA is nature’s original data storage system. We can use it
to store any kind of data: images, video, music — anything.”
Your DNA hard drive doesn’t have a USB port yet, but it may be coming. Researchers at the Beckman Institute at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign are working on the ultimate biomimetics project: writing human projects in nature’s own information storage medium: DNA.
Expanded alphabet, precise sequencing make DNA the next data storage solution (Univ of Illinois Beckman Institute, 2 March 2022). They’re adding 7 more DNA “letters” to the nature’s 4-letter code, but it’s already looking feasible to write, store, and read back almost any data.
Imagine Bach’s “Cello Suite No. 1” played on a strand of DNA.
This scenario is not as impossible as it seems. Too small to withstand a rhythmic strum or sliding bowstring, DNA is a powerhouse for storing audio files and all kinds of other media.
This 100% Darwin-free press release recognizes the tremendous potential of DNA as a storage medium.
“DNA is nature’s original data storage system. We can use it to store any kind of data: images, video, music — anything,” said Kasra Tabatabaei, a researcher at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology and a coauthor on this study.
Expanding DNA’s molecular makeup and developing a precise new sequencing method enabled a multi-institutional team to transform the double helix into a robust, sustainable data storage platform.
Two advantages of DNA are its density and its longevity. DNA puts modern solid-state drives (SSD) to shame. One gram of DNA could store several petabytes of data (an amount typically generated each day on the internet). A petabyte is 1,000 terabytes: the equivalent of 20 million tall filing cabinets. A future DNA computer would not be limited by the hard drive. It would be limited by the size of human fingers to type or move a mouse and by human eyes to view the screen.
Its longevity rivaled only by durability, DNA is designed to weather Earth’s harshest conditions — sometimes for tens of thousands of years — and remain a viable data source. Scientists can sequence fossilized strands to uncover genetic histories and breathe life into long-lost landscapes.
The press release, notably, does not mention billions or millions of years. The interdisciplinary research team spoke of “DNA’s millennia-old MO” [modus operandi] as a desirable aspect for use in computing and data storage, with its “potential to drastically increase storage density” in non-traditional media.
DNA literally made history by storing genetic information. By the looks of this study, the future of data storage is just as double-helical.
The paper in Nano Letters doesn’t mention evolution either. It’s open-access, so read more about the wonders of DNA as an information storage medium. It begins, “DNA is emerging as a robust data storage medium that offers ultrahigh storage densities greatly exceeding conventional magnetic and optical recorders.”
Tabatabaei et al., “Expanding the Molecular Alphabet of DNA-Based Data Storage Systems with Neural Network Nanopore Readout Processing,” Nano Lett. 2022, February 25, 2022, https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.nanolett.1c04203
Now enjoy this short film from Illustra Media, “18 Trillion Feet of You,” to appreciate the amount of DNA information that is stored in your body.