The Future Of DNA Data Storage

Since its discovery, DNA has been used for a number of things- ranging from solving paternity and criminal cases, detecting genetic diseases early, determining one’s ancestry and also answering the simple question of why our bodies are the way they are. However, the future of DNA seems to lie in storing information.

The world will have produced a total of 44 trillion gigabytes of data by 2020, and researchers have proposed DNA as the next step in data storage. One gram of DNA can hold up to 215 million gigabytes of data according to new studies, and four grams of DNA can hold a year worth of every person’s data combined. In addition, DNA is able to store information for up to ten thousand years, if it is uploaded correctly.

DNA is made up of four sections- adenine, guanine, cytosine, and thymine. Scientists have found out how these bases follow each other and can therefore encode and decode the information on DNA, just like with a computer. These four letter bases are treated like the zeros and ones that form binary code in computers, therefore making information translation simple. Recently, a group of researchers managed to store and retrieve a movie and a computer operating system (among other things) from DNA. They transformed the files into small encoded pieces and mapped them on to the DNA, synthesized it and stored it in a test tube. The data was then retrieved in those small bits using DNA sequencing technology and software was used to translate the genetic code back into binary code. The files were retrieved without any errors.

Using DNA as a means to store data looks simple, but there is nothing simple about DNA. The first downfall of this futuristic storage method is that DNA is an unstable biological chemical whose sequence can be altered or destroyed if not kept carefully. If the sequence is affected, all data stored can be lost. One way to ensure that DNA remains viable is to keep it completely dry. The other way is to preserve it in bone. However, these ways don’t provide the certainty required. DNA is very unpredictable- no one really knows how it works. Scientists have sometimes tried to store data and lost all of it because they are not sure of where exactly they are placing the data. Anything can go wrong during the storage and retrieval process, where your data could end up corrupted or lost.

Another disadvantage is that encoding and decoding data on DNA takes a really long time- files upload at the rate of 400 bytes per second. Also, the process is very expensive and currently it costs up to several thousand dollars to upload a couple of files and the longer you want your data to be readable, the more you will have to spend.

The money and time spent in DNA data storage don’t seem to deter scientists, however, who seem to be very optimistic about this futuristic technology. A little more than a decade from now, better methods of creating DNA will have been discovered, and we will all be able to store our information on DNA.

  • September 9, 2017
  • Blog