Data in DNA – The Grand Human Dream

Has it ever happened that you had bought a high capacity storage device and within weeks of downloading, you realized that the storage space wasn’t enough to meet your demands?

Surely, the answer would be in the affirmative for most of you.

Dearth of storage space. Will we ever be able to establish the herculean task of overcoming such a nightmarish, ever-increasing problem?

Apparently, there is a solution so mega-, giga-, tera- and even exabytes of information may live on.

How so? Read on…

What are our present options?

Humans have made a humongous progress in the sphere of digital data storage, in the last century- from libraries to a coin-size drive. However, there’s a problem with digital storage of data. In future, servers, hard drives, flash drives, pen drives and discs will degrade. A similar fate awaits our mediums of print media. Paper consumes a lot of space and eventually degenerates. Most digital data storages have a shelf-life of 25 years only.

It’s estimated that there’s about 455 Exabyte (1 billion GB) of data, worldwide.

Is there a better alternative?

The answer to this big data crunch crisis lies in something as basic as the DNA – the very same stuff that all living beings’ genetic information is stored in. The best part? DNA molecule can survive for millennia!

In recent times, some cutting edge research has been done by a group of scientists from Swiss Federal Institute of Technology. According to them, we would need only 4g of DNA to house the entire data in the planet – everything from Plato through the complete works of Shakespeare to Beyoncé’s latest albums. It can house all the tweets and still have space for all the pics ever posted on Instagram!

One single chip can virtually make us omnipotent and it’s a reality. In 2012, scientists at the University of Harvard coded a book onto DNA. It uses the same binary coding system- “1”s and “0”s, that’s used globally by all digital platforms. Hence, this data storage model is duplicable and allows usage over almost all platforms.

What’s the problem and when can we expect this in the market?

Scientists faced some minor issues retrieving data from long-frozen DNA molecules. DNA reacts with the atmosphere and degrades at room temperature. This could however be overcome by encasing it in a normal silica casing. However it still needs complex tools to analyze and write information on DNA (I am sure most of us don’t have a Dexter’s lab in their basement). At the moment, it’s out of reach for civilian use. It costs a whopping 1,500 USD to record 83Kb data.

 

As with every new technology, the cost of DNA storage might drop with more scientific advances. There might come a time in the future, when we stumble across a DNA drive in some gadget store, during a wild window-shopping venture. Till then, we have our favorite thumb drives and a hope that this greatest dream of humanity becomes a reality one day.

 

 

Written by -Soham Mitra

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