Dec 3, 2021

Microsoft Makes Breakthrough in the Quest to Use DNA as Data Storage

How do you store information in DNA? Well, the concept isn’t all that difficult to understand.

The “traditional” method of storing digital information was as ones and zeroes. As a result, this requires a measurable amount, although a small amount, of physical space to record and store the information. Flash drives, hard drives , and other methods of storing ones and zeroes can do so in a small space but the space requirements are not zero.

That becomes significant when storing terabytes and terabytes of information, such as in today’s cloud-based data centers. Some of today’s cloud-based storage facilities require computer rooms the size of a football field. Or larger. Much of that space is required to store information.

Originally developed to analyze blood, DNA uses a different method to store our genetic information. Where hard drives use ones and zeros, DNA storage uses four chemical bases, adenine (A), guanine (G), cytosine (C) and thymine (T). Remember elementary school science class? These compounds connect in pairs (A to T; G to C) to create rungs on a double helix ladder. It turns out that you can use DNA to convert ones and zeros into those four letters for storing complex data. Not only can you copy the method used in DNA, the result is less physical space required.

In other words, you can pack more information into a (small) physical space by copying DNA’s four chemical bases than you can when using ones and zeros.

Microsoft, one of the pioneers of DNA storage, is making some headway, working with the University of Washington’s Molecular Information Systems Laboratory, or MISL. The company announced in a new research paper the first nanoscale DNA storage writer, which the research group expects to scale for a DNA write density of 25 x 10^6 sequences per square centimeter, or “three orders of magnitude” (1,000x) more tightly than before.

If adopted by future data warehousing facilities, the result could be much smaller data centers, resulting in lower electricity, air conditioning, and similar requirements.

Microsoft is one of the biggest players in cloud storage and is looking at DNA data storage to gain an advantage over the competition by using its unparalleled density, sustainability, and shelf life.

You can read a lot more about this new technology in an article by Phillip Tracy published in the Gizmodo web site at: