Data in the Future – DNA Storage

Wdna-datastoragehen I mentioned my passion for data last week at an after work event, someone asked me if I had considered how quantum entanglement would affect the world of data in the future. I vaguely remembered the term from college physics and from cryptology news, but admitted that I hadn’t really thought a lot about physics was potentially connected to data. I began thinking more about what data storage in particular would look like in the future.

The more I read about the implications of quantum entanglement for data storage, the more I realized its current longevity shortcomings and that DNA data storage is another promising alternative. In an October 6, 2015 Backblaze article, there was discussion about how DNA innovations are going to increase data storage capacity beyond our imaginations in the future. This is good news because as the amount of “big data” increases exponentially in the next decade, we will need new ways of storing the data. Today I want to take a look at some of the existing challenges for using this technology and possible solutions to overcoming those challenges. According to a CNN article, one gram of DNA is theoretically capable of containing all the data of Google and Facebook with room to spare.

DNA data storage technology two biggest challenges are with errors retrieving the data and that it is currently cost prohibitive. Research has shown that information such as text printed on paper or images projected onto microfilm can survive for more than 500 years. The storage of digital information on DNA for more than 50 years is challenging because of chemical degradation. Researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich have addressed the problem of chemical degradation that leads to data retrieval errors. By encapsulating the DNA in an inorganic matrix of silica, the problem of chemical degradation is solved so that information can be recovered after the equivalent of up to 2000 years.

Like most emerging technologies, DNA data storage is currently cost prohibitive ($1500 US dollars to encode 83 KB onto DNA). But Robert Grass from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology predict that advances in technology for medical analysis will help bring down the cost for DNA IT applications. He says that “Already the prices for human genome sequences have dropped from several millions of dollars a few years ago to just hundreds of dollars now.”

As a data enthusiast, I remain hopeful and excited about how this technological innovation of medical and engineering tools will potentially safeguard large quantities of digital information in the future. And as for quantum entanglement and data storage, sometimes we must attempt what seems absurd to attain the impossible.

Illustration by Philipp Stossel

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