Should We Use DNA as Data Storage Option?

Demand for data storage is growing exponentially, however, the traditional media storage options are not keeping up with the increased demand. Most of the world’s data today is stored on magnetic and optical media. Tapes are a predominant option among magnetic/optical data storage options. The data storage capacity of a tape is determined by its density. (explain density) The densest tapes that are presently available have a capacity of 10 Gigabytes per millimeter-cube of volume.

DNA, however, has a capacity of 109   Gigabytes per millimeter-cube of volume. It can be a fantastic alternative to traditional cold storage options as:

  • It occupies much lesser space
  • Its electric power consumption is considerably lesser, thus reducing costs to a great extent.
  • It is extremely difficult for hackers to hack DNA storage units (why)
  • It can last for centuries.

The presently available technologies to create DNA for DNA storage are:   

1)PCR Reaction:

PCR reaction is an abbreviation for polymerase chain reaction. This is a widely-used technique for the large-scale replication and amplification of DNA

2) DNA Synthesis:

This a method where DNA strands can be artificially created by knitting together multiple nucleotides. (Nucleotides are the building blocks of DNA).

DNA sequencing is the method that’s used to “read” the data that’s stored in the DNA strands. DNA sequencing is the process of determining the precise order of nucleotides within a DNA molecule.

A recent breakthrough in the application of DNA for the use of storing digital and optical media was on March 2017, when scientists at Columbia University and the New York Genome Center published a technique called as DNA Fountain which allows lossless recovery of information from a density of 215 petabytes per gram of DNA. Using this method, they were also able to perfectly retrieve an operating system called KolibriOS, the French movie Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat, a $50 Amazon gift card, a computer virus, a Pioneer plaque and a study by Claude Shannon, all with a total of 2.14 megabytes.

However, DNA storage does have its pitfalls. The method is however not ready for large-scale use, as it costs $7000 to synthesise 2 megabytes of data and another $2000 to read it. The second problem with DNA storage is that the methods to read even a single byte of storage would require the scanning of the entire DNA pool, which is a very slow process. If we manage to overcome the limitations, we could actually use DNA to store data in our daily lives.

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