Keyed to your DNA

According to Finances Online, 94 zettabytes of data was created and consumed by the end of 2022. If data creation continues at this rate, the current storage solutions will not have enough capacity to handle this amount of information.

As old data storage systems edge towards redundancy, alternative technology needs to be created. A number of companies, such as Microsoft and Twist Bioscience, believe the answer to this could lie in our DNA.

DNA storage would enable molecular-level data storage into synthetic DNA molecules using biotechnology advances to develop archival storage. Instead of ones and zeros, data will now be coded in A, T, C and G to make up long chains of nucleotides, turning DNA into a new form of data storage technology.

DNA has the capacity to store large amounts of data at a density far higher than that of current electronic devices. According to calculations published by George Church in his 2016 book Nature Materials, the DNA of a simple bacterium such as E. coli has a storage density of around 10 to the power of 19 bits per cubic centimetre. This means that just one bacterium could store the data generated globally in a year.

Theoretically, DNA data storage is not a new concept. However, with the cost of genome sequencing decreasing, this new storage technology has the potential to become more than just a sci-fi fantasy. 

It’s all in the genes

There are many benefits to the potential application of DNA storage. For example, using DNA allows for a high storage density to volume ratio compared to current storage technology. The highest capacity drives commercially available are the Nimbus Data Exadrive© DC series drives. At 100TB, the SSD drive has a six to one space-saving ratio, but in 2012 a successful experiment to store data in DNA set the record for the highest-density storage medium. 

Using DNA as a storage device allows data to be stowed with little energy required. Unlike current methods that require electricity to function, DNA can be stored for 500,000 years in a fossilised form. This is possible due to the incredible stability of DNA molecules, making it a highly durable and accurate way of storing and archiving data. 

The advancements in next-generation sequencing technology allow for billions of sequences to be read easily and simultaneously. However, this technology is still far from becoming a commercial possibility.

Challenges for DNA storage

The current cost and speed at which DNA can be written and read is holding the technology back. With the cheapest whole human genome sequencing cost said to be around 600 dollars or 450 pounds and the fastest recorded time for a human genome sequencing being around five hours, the technology is still far from commercial use. 

DNA storage may not rival technologies such as the cloud for distributing and retrieving data, but it has the potential to store archival data. Despite having limitations in its application on the factory floor, this technology could help manufacturers by storing sensitive data such as financial records, product warranty information and other important documents in a durable, high density and stable way.