Microsoft and the University of Washington have teamed up to store a record 200 megabytes of data on DNA. They were able to encode the information onto synthetic DNA and then decode it again, fitting it into a relatively small space.
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Once it was encoded, the data was able to occupy a spot in a test tube that was "much smaller than the tip of a pencil," according to Douglas Carmean, a partner architect at Microsoft.
This has opened up the world to a mess of other possibilities.
The team stored digitalized version of art (including an HD video by OK Go!), more than 100 translations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the top 100 books from Project Guttenberg, and the nonprofit Crop Trust's seed database on DNA strands.
The demand for data storage is growing quickly and the capacity of storage media hasn't been keeping pace. It is hard for organizations that need to store a lot of data to compete. Hospitals and digital media companies are two of the industries facing the most problems.
DNA might just be the answer.
It has multiple advantages over anything else out there. It is durable, compact, and will always be current.
“As long as there is DNA-based life on the planet, we’ll be interested in reading it,” said Karin Strauss, the principal Microsoft researcher on the project. “So it’s eternally relevant.”
Still, they have a long way to go.
The team was able to go so far because they worked with computer scientists, computer architects, and molecular biologists who were all at the top of their games. They increased storage capacity a thousand times within the last year. They believe that they can make bigger advances this coming year.
Carmean, who has been involved since the process started in 1989, explains: “It’s one of those serendipitous partnerships where a strong understanding of processors and computation married with molecular biology experts has the potential of producing major breakthroughs.”
To get an idea about how all of this is done, take a look at the video below:
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“DNA is an amazing information storage molecule that encodes data about how a living system works. We’re repurposing that capacity to store digital data — pictures, videos, documents,” said Ceze, who is conducting research in the team’s Molecular Information Systems Lab (MISL), which is housed in a basement on the University of Washington campus. “This is one important example of the potential of borrowing from nature to build better computer systems.”