Researchers at Microsoft and the University of Washington (UW) said they have broken a world record by storing 200MB of data on synthetic DNA strands.
Researchers said the impressive part about reaching the 200MB milestone is not just how much data they were able to encode onto synthetic DNA and then decode, it's also the space they were able to store it in.
Once encoded, the data occupied a spot in a test tube "much smaller than the tip of a pencil," Douglas Carmean, the partner architect at Microsoft overseeing the project, said.
The DNA storage also has a half-life of 500 years, even in harsh conditions. The half-life of DNA -- just as with radioactive material -- determines its rate of decay or the length of time it takes half of its strand bonds to break.
Overall, though, this is a huge step forward. "Think of the amount of data in a big data center compressed into a few sugar cubes. Or all the publicly accessible data on the Internet slipped into a shoebox. That is the promise of DNA storage -- once scientists are able to scale the technology and overcome a series of technical hurdles," Microsoft stated in a blog.
The data stored on the molecular DNA included digital versions of works of art, including a high-definition music video by the band OK Go!, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in more than 100 languages, the top 100 books of Project Guttenberg and the nonprofit Crop Trust's seed database on DNA strands.
DNA is needed as a storage medium because the world's data is growing exponentially and molecular-level storage is vastly more dense than hard drives, solid state drives (SSDs) or even up-and-coming technologies such as phase-change memory.
"Those systems also degrade after a few years or decades, while DNA can reliably preserve information for centuries," the University of Washington (UW) researchers stated in a news release. "DNA is best suited for archival applications, rather than instances where files need to be accessed immediately."
Tara Brown Photography/University of Washington
UW Associate Professor Luis Henrique Ceze, in blue, and research scientist Lee Organick prepare DNA containing digital data for sequencing, which allows them to read and retrieve the original files.
The UW and Microsoft researchers are one of two teams nationwide that have also demonstrated the ability to perform random access of data from a pool of molecules, which they described as a task similar to reassembling one chapter of a story from a library of torn books.
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