Twist Bioscience says it’s extending its collaboration with Microsoft and the University of Washington on a project aimed at perfecting a process for encoding digital data in DNA molecules.
In a news release issued today, San Francisco-based Twist said Microsoft will purchase 10 million strands of synthetic DNA from the company for use in future experiments. The deal comes more a year after an initial purchase of the same number of strands for data storage.
“After working together for over a year, the organizations have improved storage density, thereby reducing the cost of DNA digital data storage by encoding more data per strand and increasing the throughput of DNA production,” Twist said.
Researchers have stored and read out a kilobyte’s worth of data using the world’s smallest hard disk – a speck of copper that stores the bits on chlorine atoms – and they say the technology could someday hold vast amounts of data in a minuscule space.
The team says they reached a storage density of 500 trillion bits per square inch, which is 500 times better than the best commercial hard disk currently available.
“In theory, this storage density would allow all books ever created by humans to be written on a single post stamp,” Sander Otte, a researcher at Delft University’s Kavli Institute of Nanoscience in the Netherlands, said in a news release.
But Karin Strauss, the principal Microsoft researcher on the project, acknowledges that so much more is theoretically possible.
“You could pack an exabyte of data in an inch cubed,” she told GeekWire. An exabyte is equal to 8 quintillion bits of information, which is much more information than is contained in the Library of Congress. (Exactly how much more? That’s a matter of debate.)
Researchers at the University of Washington and Microsoft are developing a digital storage system that can archive data in DNA molecules, with the random-access readability and error correction protocols that’d be required for real-world applications.
Once they’ve overcome those hurdles, they just have to figure out how to make the technology affordable. Eventually, such research could help open the way for data storage devices that can pack information millions of times more tightly than current silicon-based methods.
“Life has produced this fantastic molecule called DNA that efficiently stores all kinds of information about your genes and how a living system works — it’s very, very compact and very durable,” Luis Ceze, UW associate professor of computer science and engineering, said in a news release. “We’re essentially repurposing it to store digital data — pictures, videos, documents — in a manageable way for hundreds or thousands of years.”
Ceze and his colleagues describe their work in a paper presented this week in Atlanta at the ACM International Conference on Architectural Support for Programming Languages and Operating Systems, or ASPLOS.
Data storage is getting better and better, but the final frontier for the long-term preservation of digital bits may well be DNA molecules – and the University of Washington and Microsoft Research are trying to make it so.
Such a system would take advantage of DNA’s amazing information storage capability – the kind of capability that’s able to hold all the genetic code for any organism in a single cell. The Times notes that all of the world’s digital information could be stored in about 2.4 gallons (9 liters) of solution, which would fit inside a typical water cooler bottle.
The benefits of such a system not only include being able to put a lot of data in a small space, but also being able to preserve the data for millennia under the right conditions.