While many might consider biological organisms to be relatively short lived, DNA, an essential biological component, is known to have a shelf life of several thousand years. This fact and the storage capacity possibilities offered by DNA's structure make it an attractive target for R&D into digital data storage research. Earlier this week DNA synthesis company Twist Bioscience announced that Microsoft has agreed to purchase ten million long oligonucleotides for research into encoding digital data.
In a press release Emily M. Leproust, Ph.D., CEO of Twist Bioscience, put forward the case for DNA as a digital data storage medium. She asserted that the long shelf-life of DNA was highly attractive to those looking to store data and that the silicon-based DNA produced by Twist Bioscience accelerates the ability to read and write DNA with relatively low cost.
Microsoft's Doug Carmean, a partner architect within the company's Technology and Research organisation, said that looking for new methods for long-term, secure data storage was essential as data storage demands are growing exponentially. In initial tests, working with Twist, Microsoft found that it "could encode and recover 100 percent of the digital data from synthetic DNA," said Carmean. However, he noted that the R&D was still "years away from a commercially- viable product", while efforts are put in to increase the density and durability of the storage to approach its realistic potential.
What is the potential of DNA storage? According to Twist Bioscience figures, collected from the likes of the American Chemical Society, DNA data storage could last up to 2,000 years without deterioration. Furthermore, and perhaps more importantly for the exponential digital data deluge we are facing, "a single gram of DNA can store almost one trillion gigabytes (almost a zettabyte) of digital data".