UPDATED 08:00 EDT / DECEMBER 04 2023


Biomemory debuts what it says is the world’s first commercially available DNA storage product

French digital data startup Biomemory SAS has announced what it claims is the first instance of DNA-based storage being made available to the general public, with the launch of its new DNA memory cards.

Announced today, ahead of general availability later this year, the groundbreaking Biomemory DNA Cards come in a credit card-shaped format and have a capacity of just 1 kilobyte of text data. Although that is rather limited, the devices offer real-world proof of the practicality of molecular computing and its ability to solve storage needs, while representing a more sustainable alternative to traditional silicon, the startup said.

In addition, the DNA Cards are said to have a minimum lifespan of 150 years, setting a new standard for data longevity too.

Biomemory says the development of its DNA Cards was inspired by the exponential growth of big data in the world. More than 100 trillion gigabytes, or 100,000 exabytes of data, is created and consumed each year and this number is likely to double by 2025.

Given the physical space and energy requirements of modern data centers, such a growth rate is clearly unsustainable, the startup says. It cites a report that shows how the world’s data centers today use 200 terawatt-hours of electricity, representing about 3.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions each year.

Traditional digital storage formats include flash drives, which store information by encoding it into the physical stage of their transistors. The transistor represents a 1 when it’s switched on and a 0 when switched off. As for hard drives, these represent data using magnetic fields of metal platters. There are also quantum computers, which store data as ion qubits by manipulating their spin.

Biomemory’s DNA Cards instead use a technique known as “molecular computing”, which harnesses synthetic DNA molecules to store data. The information is represented by nucleotides, which are the tiny organic molecules that form the basic building blocks of DNA. All DNA is made using four types of nucleotides – C, G, A and T.

This technique is said to be thousands of times less energy-intensive than existing electronic-based data storage systems. What’s more, it’s much more efficient in terms of the physical space that’s required. Another DNA storage startup, Catalog Technologies Inc., claims that its DNA storage systems are so compact they can theoretically store about 600 billion gigabytes of information per cubic meter, compared with just 30 million gigabytes for traditional hard drives.

The key to this efficiency is that the nucleotides are so much smaller than the transistors and metal platters used in flash and disk-based storage systems.

Extreme longevity

In an interview, Biomemory Chief Executive Erfane Arwani said the new cards represent a significant milestone in the evolution of DNA data storage technology. Though he admitted that the 1-kilobyte capacity of the DNA Cards might be somewhat modest, “it is important to consider the unique value proposition of DNA storage,” he said

In particular, DNA as a storage medium offers a much longer lifespan than traditional techniques. “Currently, we guarantee the integrity of stored data for 150 years, but we’re swiftly moving towards extending this to 1,000 and eventually 10,000 years,” he said. “This surpasses the longevity of the oldest human writings.”

The DNA Cards are essentially a proof of concept, but Biomemory has plans to make technology much more useful. According to Arwani, the next step will be to expand the capacity of the devices to accommodate family photos, vital documents, audio and video files.

Arwani added that a wide spectrum of potential users have shown interest in the technology, with families seeing it as a unique and lasting Christmas gift, and cryptocurrency investors wanting to use it to store the private keys of their digital wallets securely. Enterprises have also shown interest thanks to its potential for archived data storage.

Biomemory says its DNA Cards will be produced in batches of 10 orders, with each order receiving two identical cards. The devices are said to have been manufactured using an efficient, in-house DNA builder that provides significant advances over existing chemical or enzymatic synthesis techniques.

The data retrieval challenge

As a technology, DNA storage has been possible for several years already, but one of the biggest challenges is not encoding the data as DNA, but rather, retrieving that information once it has been encoded, or essentially making it easily accessible to users when they need it.

Arwani explained that Biomemory is working hard to solve this challenge, and that this process begins with the way it first transforms traditional binary data — 0s and 1s —  into DNA format. “We convert this data into a DNA sequence represented by four nucleotides, A, T, G and C,” the CEO said. “Our specialized robot then constructs these DNA molecules and dessicates them onto the chip of the DNA Card.”

To retrieve the data on its cards, it has partnered with a laboratory called Eurofins Genomics, which will use a device designed by Biomemory to open the DNA Cards and proceed with DNA sequencing using standard, modern equipment, Arwani said. He explained that converting the raw DNA back into the original digital message involves the use of a proprietary algorithm that guarantees 100% data recovery every time. For now, it’s a rather tedious process for the user, who will be required to send their DNA Cards to Eurofins so it can handle the retrieval process and make that information available through a dedicated user page on its website.

In the future, though, the process of recovering the data stored in DNA will be drastically simplified, Arwani promised. The company is working on a product that’s tailored for data center operators, which makes use of “unprecedented miniaturization and parallelism in DNA synthesis.” It will be integrated with its physical storage hardware and organize the DNA data physically and logically, similar how to traditional SSDs and hard drives work, Arwani said.

“This organization will enable file access within 60 seconds,” he said. “This is a significant feat considering we are going to be dealing with archive-scale data, potentially encompassing humanity’s entire data repository. While 60 seconds might seem lengthy, it’s a worthwhile wait to access what will be a virtually indestructible archive of information.”

While working to enable data retrieval in a realistic timeframe, Biomemory is also looking to scale up the actual storage tech and make it viable for use in modern data centers. Its roadmap calls for the release of Biomemory Prime, which is the DNA-based equivalent of a server rack that’s designed to slot into existing facilities, with a planned storage capacity of around 100 petabytes. The company is hoping to launch this product by 2026, Arwani said.

Photo: Biomemory

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