DNA Data Storage is Going Mainstream!!

What is a big deal about DNA data storage? Some might say they have ample space in the cloud to store all their photos, music’s and data but thanks to the emergence of big data we are generating and storing loads of data every second. According to IDC’s 2018 white paper, the amount of data created, captured, and replicated will grow from 33 Zettabytes in 2018 to 175 Zettabytes by 2025 and guess what, we do not have enough storage space to store all that information. Although data storage technology has come a long way since IBM introduced “305 RAMAC” in 1956, which offered 5 megabytes of storage, all these media’s eventually wear out or become obsolete. If someone handed you a cassette tape or 8-inch floppy disk to listen to music or access an old photo you have no way of retrieving the data.

What makes DNA so great is that DNA can store Gigabytes of data in a minuscular space. DNA is very stable over time and does not even require electricity to store information. Unlike the older storage solution like an 8-inch floppy disk or different/older data format type, there is less likely that we lose the ability to read DNA. As long as the humans are alive we will care about reading our own DNA. The other great advantages of DNA storage is you can make millions of copies of data fairly easily and almost for free.

The biggest challenges of DNA storage at the moment are slow read-write process and high price tag. To write the data onto a DNA first you should map 0s and 1s into DNA’s 4 types of nitrogen base A, T, C and G pairs. A synthesis company will write the converted data into DNA and you should expect to pay around $1000 per MB. To recover the data you need to sequence it and that process could take hours or days to complete.  

Companies like Microsoft and Intel are investing heavily in DNA storage R&D. Microsoft in collaboration with the university of Washington demonstrated the first fully automated DNA data storage in March 2019. They proved it is possible to automate the read-write process to convert bits to molecules and back to bits again. Scientist and storage experts are confident DNA storage will become widely available at a reasonable price in the next decade.