DNA Molecules Can Now Store Hundreds Of Megabytes Of Digital Data

Image courtesy of Adam Fagent

In a scene that could be straight out of Battlestar Galactica or Caprica, researchers from Microsoft and the University of Washington say they have found a way to successfully encode and store hundreds of megabytes of data in synthetic DNA molecules.

The Seattle Times reports that this breakthrough could revolutionize the way in which we store large amounts of digital data.

The 200 megabytes of data stored on the synthetic DNA molecules — which broke the previous record of 22 megabytes — included more than 100 books, translations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and a high-definition music video from the band OK Go.

After storing the data on the DNA, it was removed, decoded, and then read.

“This is a concrete example that we can build computers in a very different way, that’s more than just silicon,” Luis Ceze, a UW associate professor and the university’s principal researcher on the project, said. “We’re going to nature to build better computers.”

By encoding data in DNA’s double helix, one day, the researchers say, the molecules could become a powerful tool to store and archive photos, videos, and other digital information.

In fact, the DNA could store more than an exabyte of data (one billion gigabytes), which would normally require an entire warehouse-sized data center under conventional storage methods.

In addition to storing large quantities of data more easily, researchers say the synthetic DNA is also a more secure method of storage. For example, hard disks and flash drives can fail after a few years, while, under the right condition, DNA can leave data readable for thousands of years.

“Our goal is really to build systems to show that it is possible,” Karin Strauss, Microsoft’s lead researcher on the project, said, noting that the system is years away from practical use.

UW, Microsoft claim big breakthrough with data storage using DNA [Seattle Times]

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