UPDATED 12:54 EDT / JULY 08 2016


Microsoft researchers claim major breakthrough in DNA data storage

Researchers from Microsoft and the University of Washington say they have made a major breakthrough in the field of DNA data storage, managing to successfully store 200 megabytes of information within DNA molecules. The data stored includes literary classics like War and Peace, as well as over 100 translations of the Universal Declaration of Human rights and a music video by the band OK Go.

DNA is already a natural storage medium, and the researchers say that it has enormous potential for the future of data storage.

“The world is producing data at an incredible rate, and storage technologies need to keep up,” Luis Ceze, a professor at the University of Washington and one of the researchers on the DNA project, told Phys.org. “DNA is a remarkable storage molecule—it is millions of times denser than other storage media, it is incredibly durable (think millennia) and it never becomes obsolete. We humans, as DNA-based life forms, will always be interested in reading and writing DNA.”

While 200 megabytes is a major breakthrough in the field of DNA data storage, it is obviously insignificant compared to the scope of data needs today, and with the complexity currently involved in both writing and reading DNA data, it is unlikely that it will be replacing traditional storage options any time soon.

“There are still many challenges in making DNA storage mainstream,” Ceze admitted. “We will continue to focus on developing an end-to-end system and work with our Microsoft and Twist Bioscience collaborators to reduce the cost and increase the speed of writing and reading DNA.”

This type of DNA storage is not the only biology-based data system currently being developed. Last month, a team of geneticists at Harvard University announced that they had successfully stored 100 bytes of data in a colony of living bacteria. While this is an even more insignificant amount of data compared to Microsoft’s recent success, the method used by the Harvard team takes advantage of living cells that are capable of passing on the data through reproduction, creating a natural backup system.

Image credit: Caroline Davis2010 (license)

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