Ultra High Density Data Storage – It’s In Your DNA

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Okay, maybe not your DNA specifically, but it looks like the key to extremely high density data storage could lie in using DNA itself as the storage medium.  Over at Nature.com is an article describing how three researchers have encoded a little over 5mb of a book draft along with some jpeg images and a JavaScript program onto DNA.  This is significant because it’s the largest amount of non-biological data ever stored like this and possibly the beginning of an entirely new way of storing information.

If it works the way their theories suggest, two bits of data can be stored per nucleotide (the basic units of DNA and RNA molecules) which would allow a single gram of DNA to store 455 exabytes of data.  That’s dense, folks.  It’s a storage density far beyond anything we have now or even anything from the glamorous world of quantum-computing.

So just how big is an exabyte you ask?  Really big.  I mean really, really big.  A gigabyte is 109 bytes or a billion bytes, while an exabyte is 1018 bytes or a billion billion bytes.

Yeah I know, that really isn’t a very good comparison so let me try it another way.  Most people have USB thumb drives and a pretty average size these days is 8gb, so for example’s sake we’re just going to use that as our basic “thumb drive” unit.  If you had a DNA-based drive with only 1 gram of DNA in it and it held the theoretical limit of 455 exabytes of data it would hold as much data as nearly 570 billion thumb drives!  That’s about 80 thumb drives for every single human being on Earth.

I told you it was big.

On top of ridiculously dense data storage, the researchers say using DNA as a storage medium might allow you to store the data uncorrupted for centuries.  Unfortunately, making this process practical is still years away, but it’s likely only a matter of time since it’s already been proven to work.  As the cost of DNA sequencing technologies drops the practicality and affordability of this technology will rise.  In just four short years the cost of such sequencing tech has dropped to about 1/1000 the price, as has the cost of DNA synthesis.

For the full article, click on over to “DNA data storage breaks records” at Nature.com.

Tom Gardiner