DNA Encoding

So said Buzz Lightyear in the kids’ cartoon classic Toy Story. While all the other toys laughed at Buzz, there’s something eerily similar in the way storage technology is shaping up over the past year. As need for mass storage systems increase because of big data and the extending use of AI/ML, data storage systems are becoming larger, more complex, and in need of change. There are some new technologies coming online, but the most exciting is a data storage system designed around DNA encoding.

The last year has seen some pretty great innovations in storage. The major players are the existing storage manufacturers, who are getting creative with ways to store data. For example, 3D Nand technology is a simple solution to an otherwise complex problem. Data storage has traditionally been over 2D surfaces (think of an old floppy disk, for example, where data is stored on a ‘plate’ style flat surface), and even advancement in solid state storage still utilized a flat surface for storage. While the size of each storage component could be reduced substantially, the overall storage capacity was always limited by the two dimensional space availiable. Hence storage could be maximized only by x and y components. 3D Nand (invented by Samsung in 2012, and shipped commercially with the iPhone 7 just last year) takes single sheet tech and layers it up, allowing more concentrated storage with much faster read and write times (up to 2x as fast with 50% less energy usage).

But these advancements may soon be eclipsed by something far more complex and elegant. The recent recognition that the highest storage density in the known world is found in DNA has made researchers look for ways to embed data on DNA. The microscopic DNA encoding structure allows for huge amounts of storage in incredibly small spaces, and the added bonus of the nucleotide system (A,G,T,C) for storing individual bits of data make such advancement radical. In fact, a single gram of rightly structured DNA memory could hold north of 200 million gigabytes (200 petabytes) of data. At that storage capacity, all the data ever recorded by humans could be held on the equivalent of about a 10 foot cube of DNA. Now that’s storage capacity!

Even more exciting is that the technology (started in 2012) is gaining momentum. Recently announced results show that scientists have been able to produce, code, and reassemble data with no errors (one of the potential drawbacks of DNA encoding), ad all in very short time. Of course there are drawbacks…the cost of encoding and decoding the data was nearly $10K, but as we know with computer tech, once something works, its just a matter of time before better and cheaper ways to do it are designed.

The need for mass storage at micro levels has lead to some really fantastic designs in storage. This newest addition of DNA encoding has made the headlines as a way to store huge data in tiny space. Just like Buzz, the potential is limitless.

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