DNA data storage may sound futuristic, but it’s on the immediate horizon

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As the amount of data being generated around the world continues to grow at an aggressive rate, researchers are looking for ultra-dense, ultra-durable storage technologies that can host it all.

For example, Microsoft is examining the possibility of using lasers to etch data into quartz glass or to store information as a hologram inside crystals. New developments in tape storage, the current first choice for archive use cases, are also promising.

However, one new storage medium in particular seems to have all the necessary attributes: deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA. Researchers have found that a single gram of DNA is capable of storing 215 PB (220,000 TB) of data.

To learn more about the work to make DNA storage a commercial reality, TechRadar Pro spoke with the DNA Data Storage Alliance, founded last year by Microsoft, Western Digital, Twist Bioscience and Ilumina.

The Alliance was launched with the goal of raising awareness of emerging storage technology and establishing a set of standards and specifications on which the industry can build.

What is DNA storage and what challenges does it face?

DNA data storage is the process of encoding and decoding binary data on and from synthesized DNA strands (deoxyribonucleic acid). DNA has several unique properties including density, it is essentially free to copy, the code will still be readable, and the cost of ownership over time will be lower due to longevity. In addition, it saves considerably on energy costs compared to today’s digital storage.

Legacy storage solutions have evolved considerably over the years, but the surface density of magnetic media (hard drive and tape), which today enables consumer archival storage solutions, is slowing down and library sizes are getting heavy. . In short, data growth exceeds the scalability of today’s storage solutions. The industry needs a new, denser, more durable, durable and cost effective storage medium in order to cope with the expected future growth of archival data.

How is it possible to translate digital information into an organic format (and vice versa)?

What kinds of complications can arise here?

To store data in DNA, the original digital (binary) data is encoded (mapped 1s and 0s to DNA base sequences, ACGT), then written (synthesized using chemical processes). / organic) and stored. When the stored data is needed again, the DNA molecules are read (sequenced to reveal each individual ACG or T in order) and decoded (remapped from the DNA bases in 1 and 0).

There are some concerns about the accuracy of the data potentially introduced by errors in the synthesis and sequencing of oligonucleotides (short pieces of DNA). However, unlike oligo synthesis for healthcare, which must be perfect, DNA storage can tolerate errors due to error correction algorithms generally used in storage today. DNA data storage pioneers are already working on improving the encoding / error correction algorithm that will mitigate this risk and retrieve the data accurately. Additionally, cost, speed, logistics and other challenges remain barriers for data centers to adopt this technology.

The DNA Data Storage Alliance was formed by Illumina, Microsoft Research, Twist Bioscience and Western Digital. Our mission is to create and promote an interoperable storage ecosystem based on DNA manufactured as a data storage medium. Our initial goal is to educate and raise awareness of this emerging technology. In addition, as commercially viable DNA data storage methods and tools become better understood and more widely available, the Alliance will consider the creation of specifications and standards (e.g. coding, physical interfaces, preservation, data systems). files) to promote the emergence of interoperable solutions based on DNA data storage that complement existing storage hierarchies.

What could be the impact of DNA storage on the data center industry?

DNA is an inherently environmentally friendly medium in terms of power, space and durability, in addition to dramatically reducing the need to migrate data every few years. When used as the primary archive storage medium in a data center, it has the potential to change the size of the data center as well as the total cost of ownership and, alternatively, impose much less burdens. important than legacy archive storage technologies on the planet’s resources.

What are the main obstacles that DNA storage will have to overcome?

The costs of DNA synthesis and sequencing are still relatively high compared to archival storage media currently in use, such as hard drives or tapes, and significant cost reduction is required for data storage DNA is widely adopted. In addition, education and confidence building to prepare the market for this new storage medium will also be essential, which is why the DNA Data Storage Alliance was formed.

What are the latest innovations in R&D that bring DNA storage closer to reality?

Costs continue to fall due to the miniaturization of the DNA synthesis process by Twist Bioscience. Other companies are pursuing alternative methods of DNA synthesis, both approaches allowing massively parallelized synthesis and cost reductions. The cost and throughput of NGS is also constantly improving, making DNA data recovery more promising. In addition, the development of coding and decoding algorithms has proven itself.

What kind of schedule are we dealing with?

The storage of DNA data will be available in the medium term. There is still work to be done and a lot of momentum to make this a reality. Early adopters of DNA data storage are likely to be applications where they have Write Once, Read Never (WORN) or Write Once, Read Rarely If Ever (PIRE) data. As the technology evolves and becomes accepted within the community, the market will expand and evolve.

What historical storage technologies is DNA most likely to compete with?

The demand for long-term data storage in the cloud is reaching unprecedented levels. Existing storage technologies do not offer a cost effective solution for storing long term data. Operating at such scales in the cloud requires a fundamental rethink of how we build large-scale storage systems, as well as the underlying storage technologies that underpin them.

Are there other emerging storage technologies in development that could be just as promising?

Researchers are exploring various technologies to support this evolution, including data storage in synthetic DNA, quartz glass, and other evolutionary optical systems. DNA data storage is unique in its characteristics and properties – it can be argued that it will allow a new level of storage.


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