DNA as a data storage medium

The project, led by Nick Goldman of the European Bioinformatics Institute (EBI) at Hinxton, UK, marks another step towards using nucleic acids as a practical way of storing information — one that is more compact and durable than current media such as hard disks or magnetic tape.

DNA packs information into much less space than other media. For example, CERN, the European particle-physics lab near Geneva, currently stores around 90 petabytes of data on some 100 tape drives. Goldman’s method could fit all of those data into 41 grams of DNA.

The promise of extending DNA storage is largely hampered by the high cost of writing and reading DNA. The EBI team estimates that it costs around $12,400 to encode every megabyte of data, and $220 to read it back. However, these costs are falling exponentially. The technique could soon be feasible for archives that need to be maintained long term, but that will rarely be accessed, such as CERN’s data. If costs fall by 100-fold in ten years, the technique could be cost-effective if you want to store data for at least 50 years. And Church says that these estimates may be too pessimistic, as “the cost of reading and writing DNA has changed by a million-fold in the past nine years, which is unheard of even in electronics”.

via Nature News.

Just like all data storage technologies before them, the techniques are prohibitively expensive in the research domain, but costs are expected to fall quickly as consumer products are developed and newer technologies are implemented.

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