Microsoft and Western Digital create the DNA Data Storage Alliance

Storing information in DNA is possible, but quite complicated and slow. However, various companies are researching it – and the DNA Data Storage Alliance has now been founded to drive this development forward.

Long way to application

Microsoft and Western Digital are probably the most prominent co-founders, and there are also Twist Bioscience and Illumina. Twist Bioscience and Microsoft have been working with the University of Washington for years to store data in synthetic DNA. Last year, they had already shown a prototype of automated DNA storage and, in collaboration with Twist Bioscience, proved that it is also possible to store larger amounts of data.

There is still a long way to go before it can be used commercially, said Karin Strauss from Microsoft Research in a presentation at the Flash Memory Summit. The foundation of the DNA Data Storage Allience initially serves to provide information about the technology, identify possible applications and then possibly develop a roadmap for commercial uses.

Advantages of DNA storage

Overall, however, Strauss does not see data storage in synthetic DNA as a competitor to flash memory. Currently the latency is way too high and the speed is way too slow. DNA storage could perhaps serve as an archive medium, but not as fast working memory. Compared to current techniques of long-term archiving, however, DNA storage is much more suitable: Strauss reckons that the information would last between two thousand and two million years. Another advantage of the DNA memory: There will always be readers for DNA; different from current storage media.

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Once the technology is fully developed, it should also be less polluting than the current one. Strauss compared DNA storage with a tape: To store 1 TB of data over a year, tape drives require three times the energy, and accordingly three times the CO2 emissions are to be expected.

Should the technology one day be ready for the market, the space requirement should also be significantly lower. Strauss said an exabyte could fit into a one-inch (2.54 cm) cube. For most users, the storage space in the pink spot in the picture above could also be sufficient: that’s 10 Tbytes.


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