In the context of a dramatic increase in data generation, the idea of storing data in single molecules that hold our genetic code (DNA) has come to the fore as a possible solution.

DNA in Data Storage

With around 2.5 million gigabytes of data generated every day, the amount grows enormously each year, challenging our competence and capacity to store data. 

According to Nature’s report, the traditional method of saving data on silicon flash memory chips will absorb 10 to 100 times more than the estimated available silicon supply by 2040.

The current data center footprint is enormous, with some as large as football fields, and must be significantly reduced. Meanwhile, data transmission speeds must be fast, and the storage capacity must last for many decades without a breakdown. 

DNA, the molecule that contains our genetic information, finally becomes an ideal candidate for the solution. 

Adenine (A), guanine (G), cytosine (C), and thymine (T) are the four chemical bases used in DNA storage, whereas hard drives take ones and zeros Gizmodo reported. 

The compounds that form pairs (A to T; G to C) release rungs on a double helix ladder, allowing users to covert ones and zeros into those four letters for storing complex data.

Microsoft takes the first move in DNA storage

Microsoft, an industry behemoth in DNA storage, has made some joint progress collaborating with the University of Washington’s Molecular Information Systems Laboratory, or MISL.

The corporate has introduced the first nanoscale DNA storage writer in a new research paper. They expect to scale for a DNA write density of 25 x 106 sequences per square centimeter, or “three orders of magnitude” (3,000x) more information than previously.

The announcement acknowledged meeting the minimum write speed required for DNA storage.

Microsoft, one of the most prominent names in cloud storage, has adopted DNA data storage to gain a competitive edge thanks to its unrivaled density, durability, and shelf life.

DNA is believed to have a density capability of storing one exabyte, or 1 billion gigabytes, per square inch, which is much greater than Linear Type-Open (LTO) magnetic tape, our current best storage solution.

DNA storage’s drawbacks

The first of two significant issues in DNA storage appears to be write speed. However, Microsoft has no difficulty reaching the minimum rate, allowing the giant to move on to the next step. 

“A natural next step is to embed digital logic in the chip to allow individual control of millions of electrode spots to write kilobytes per second of data in DNA. And we foresee the technology reaching arrays containing billions of electrodes capable of storing megabytes per second of data in DNA. This will bring DNA data storage performance and cost significantly closer to tape,” Microsoft told TechRadar.

According to ETH Zurich’s Robert Grass, the second problem with DNA storage is its high cost; a few megabytes would be worth thousands of dollars. Furthermore, the slow write speed will discourage users from using DNA as their primary access method.  

Prospect of DNA storage

According to the International Data Corporation, data storage demands will reach nine zettabytes by 2024.

Microsoft said that one zettabyte of storage is enough for 15 billion devices downloading Windows 11. 

Moreover, DNA storage also proves effective as data stored in DNA can be preserved for thousands of years, whereas data stored on tape can only be maintained for around 30 years, and the time will be even shorter for SSDs and HDDs.

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