DNA DATA STORAGE
As our everyday wants and needs see us increasingly reaching for tech, the days of DNA data storage may not be as far in the future as we think.
With the number of internet users growing by around one million per day by 2025 data centres (mega-store sized hubs which hold everything from ecommerce platforms to cat videos) are set to consume 1/5th of global energy produced.
This is due to the prediction that by 2020 1.7MB of data will be created per person, per second globally – adding up to a whopping 418 zettabytes (418 billion 1TB hard drives worth) in a single year – a tenfold increase compared to 2013 (equating to enough data to fill six stacks of tablets stretching to the moon).
While not all of this information needs to be saved, our current magnetic and optical binary storage systems have a finite lifespan of around a century (which we’re fast approaching) and the energy they take to maintain is huge.
The fact of the matter is that the world is producing data far faster than the capacity to store it. We’re currently facing a serious global data-storage problem which is only set to worsen, meaning we might have to get a bit pickier with what selfies we keep in future.
But not if DNA data storage takes off the way researchers believe it will.DNA ordinarily acts as the genetic instructions for the development and functionality of all living things.
Holding a magnitude of information in long strings of nucleotide, of which there are four types (A, T, C & G). It may sound like something from a far-fetched sci-fi film, but DNA is already routinely sequenced (read), synthesised (written to) and accurately copied with ease.
In fact, a number of companies including Microsoft and Twist Bioscience are already working to advance DNA-storage technologies. In 2017 a group of researchers at Harvard University adopted CRISPR gene splicing technology.
This enabled them to record images of a human hand into the genome of E.coli which was read back with in excess of 90% accuracy.While researchers at the University of Washington and Microsoft Research team have developed a fully automated system for writing, storing and reading data encoded in DNA that requires much less energy than our current system.
As well as being able to store far more information in a much smaller space than the likes of memory sticks and SD cards (a data centre the size of a mega-store supermarket could be shrunk down to the size of a sugar cube), the rate of degradation of data is far slower in DNA.
Being able to reliable preserve information for centuries, rather than the mere years – or decades, at a push – that we’re used to.
And, with University of Washington and Microsoft Researchers applying our understanding of computer memory to these DNA sequences, they’ve begun to demonstrate the ability to perform “random access”.
Meaning extracting specific data once it has been input to the DNA will become a reasonably simple task.Of course, as with all new technologies, the cost and speed of reading and writing DNA needs to drop significantly if the process is to compete with electronic storage.
But even if it does not become a ubiquitous storage method, it will almost certainly be used in the generation of information at levels never seen before, as well as aiding the long-term preservation of certain types of data.
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