Background

DNA data storage isn’t as science-fictiony as it may sound

Paul van Gerven
Reading time: 3 minutes

Several tech companies are looking into using DNA for archival storage purposes.

DNA as a data storage medium – the concept is almost intuitive. If nature entrusts the biopolymer with the information needed to construct an organism, why couldn’t it store our digital data? DNA uses four different molecules to encode information, which is easily adapted to a binary system (see inset). Perhaps unsurprisingly, therefore, the idea was already put forward decades ago. Physicist Richard Feynman proposed it in his famous 1959 lecture “There’s plenty of room at the bottom,” only six years after the helical structure of DNA was discovered.

Storing data in DNA would have some major advantages. As small as a flash memory cell is, a single molecule as a basic storage unit is about as small as it gets. Theoretically capable of storing 455 exabytes per gram, a soda can full of DNA could store all of the world’s data. At the current growth rate of data generation, such high-density solutions will become attractive soon enough – if not inescapable, proponents say.

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