DNA data storage refers to keeping digital data stored within the high-density molecules that store genetic information. DNA-based storage has multiple benefits: it’s sustainable, compact, and can easily store large amounts of data. DNA molecules are also highly stable and can be read, interpreted, and copied with ease.
DNA data storage context
The world’s digital footprint has increased exponentially since the internet was invented. Currently, the world’s data is stored in gigantic data centers, often as large as football fields, scattered across the world. As the global need for data storage increases, more extensive data centers and vast amounts of energy become essential to accommodate digital information storage. The mounting capital and maintenance costs required to feed the world’s data storage appetite has created a need for more sustainable data storage alternatives, like DNA storage.
DNA storage requires synthesis, sequencing, and embedding of codes to encode up to 17 exabytes of information per gram. Theoretically, that means a coffee mug full of DNA could store the world’s digital information. Indeed, scientists can already store music, videos, pictures, and text in DNA. However, an easy way to sift through DNA data is essential in making DNA data storage a viable storage alternative.
As of 2021, data storage using DNA is costly, with prices ranging from up to one trillion dollars to write one petabyte of data. Additionally, there is currently no simple way to retrieve data from DNA. That means that the average consumer can neither afford nor operate DNA data storage systems. Hence, DNA data storage is unlikely to become a common method of information storage for consumers in the near-term.
However, as the technology matures, governments, research centers, and non-government agencies might find value in archiving scores of data onto a DNA format. It’s also very likely that this research into the structure of DNA, the way it’s transcripted and encoded, could help scientists in other medical fields that require the manipulation of genomics.
Applications of DNA data storage
Applications for DNA data storage may include:
- Helping future exabyte data facilities taper their energy and land expenditure by converting information to a DNA format.
- Creating new types of jobs for scientists in Information Technology (IT) companies to assist with managing DNA-based IT and storage solutions.
- Indirectly developing a greater understanding of DNA molecules, and helping scientists treat genetic disorders in medical fields (for applications like curing cystic fibrosis).
Questions to comment on
- Do you think DNA data storage will ever be cheap enough for a regular consumer to purchase?
- Are there ethical problems that scientists need to worry about in their pursuit of mastery over genetic molecules?