Long term data storage proponents can sigh a breath of relief thanks to Biomemory, a DNA based data storage service that encapsulates your data in synthetic DNA strands for data storage for the next millenia.
Data stored on SSDs, Hard Disks and even BluRay Disks lasts anywhere from 3 years to a max decade. Data on current digital storage devices eventually fades, making it hard to store data for long term. This is a major issue for which our only solution is the same old paper and granite. While fading data is an issue, it is not the only issue when it comes to data storage. The industry is facing a scarcity of storage devices to store data that we as humans are generating. Our insatiable demand for data generation and storage is pushing manufacturers to the brink of production and pushing up price of per GB data storage. While at the same time being environmentally harmful, consuming huge amounts of electricity and causing environmental pollution.
One solution proposed is DNS based storage since it has been known to preserve genetic data from long extinct species in unsavoury environments. DNA per gram can also hold much more data than what SSD’s or any other storage solutions can. For example, the data generated in an average year of around 50 billion terabytes can be stored in a DNA the size of a chocolate bar.
What exactly is Biomemory’s Storage Solution?
Biomemory is creating airtight capsules that encapsulate dried data encoded DNA strands for long term storage. Reading this DNA requires rehydration and a genetic sequencer to read the genetic sequence and obtain the data. Accessing the data once from the DNA requires the destruction of the capsule, however the data sequenced from the DNA can be reused to synthesise new DNA strands encoding the data.
While Biomemory‘s solution does not provide the convenience of a SSD or hard-drives, allowing access to data whenever needed, it however preserves the stored data for 1000s for years at room temperature. Assuming advancements in next generation sequencing keep up with the pace of development, genetic sequencing will become considerably advanced and cost effective that today’s tech. Even going to the extent of being able to re-read and edit the DNA just like a SSD or CD-drive. This could potentially mean that DNA storage drives could replace conventional storage in the nearby future.
While the economics of converting digital data to DNA, storing it and then re-reading it are complicated and unclear for now, multiple companies and institutions are working to simplify the same. MoleculArXiv1, a exploratory Priority Research Program and Equipment (PEPR), under CNRS leadership and the DNA Storage Alliance are some of the institutions working to further develop DNA storage for the next generation of storage.
Benefits of DNA Over Current Storage Alternatives
DNA with its quadruple amino combination instead of 0s and 1s is capable of much more storage than traditional digital drives. According to whitepapers from the DNA Storage Alliance around 9TB of encoded DNA can fit into just 1mm^3 of space.
Another France based company Imagene initially began as a DNA storage company is now working to preserve synthetic RNA at room temperature for point-of-care molecular diagnostics. Imagene introduced storage capsules similar in type to Biomemory but their synthesising costs remain high.
Reducing DNA Synthesis Costs
According to the CEO of Biomemory Erfane Arwani, “Making DNA data storage practical requires synthesizing DNA at a much higher scale than currently possible for a fraction of the current cost, while minimizing error rates, the high cost of current DNA storage in oligonucleotides, above €1000 ($1055) per megabyte, has prevented the real-world application of this technology for massive data storage.”
Unlike Imagene and other competitors that have used Enzymatic DNA synthesis, Biomemory’s crucial innovation is the use of bacteria to synthesize DNA. Hence instead of using PCR machines, the team uses preprogrammed bacteria to efficiently synthesize DNA for storage.
Future of DNA Storage
DNA based storage has a long way to go in order to prove its viability as a stable storage medium after hundreds of years. The true challenge would be to discover a means of reading and editing the synthetic DNA without destroying it. Nanopore’s tech maybe the first step into reading synthetic DNA without destroying the DNA, paving the way for an alternative to SSD’s and hard drives.
However, for now Biomemory’s storage technology is functional and available to the general population. It currently takes a week to process the data into The process will need to be a lot cheaper and quicker if it is to be put to general use. It currently takes 100 seconds to save 1 bit of data onto synthetic DNA, in contrast to a fraction of a second on an SSD or spinning disk. The project’s immediate aim is to accelerate write speed one hundred-fold in the coming three to five years, and to further reduce the size of the technology, to keep running costs down.
For now users can join Biomemory’s waitlist in order to get DNA storage capsules with encoded DNA. Buyers also get a free data retrieval from Eurofins Genomics to verify if their data is intact. However retrieving data by sequencing the synthetic DNA will destroy the capsule.