In 2018, scientists from Microsoft Research and the University of Washington achieved a new milestone: They figured out how to create random access on DNA at scale.
They encoded 200 megabytes of data—35 video, image, audio and text files ranging from 29KB to 44MB—to synthetic DNA. To date, scientists have stored a $50 Amazon gift card, an operating system and a film (L’arrivée d’un train en gare de La Ciotat, a foundational black-and-white French short film made in 1896) on human DNA.
Researchers at Columbia University and the New York Genome Center think that DNA could potentially be used in advanced computer systems, and they’re not alone. The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) announced its own DNA storage project in 2017.
It seems like a weird branch of biological science, but there are practical reasons for human computing: DNA could solve our future data storage problems. It’s durable, too: Evolutionary scientists routinely study DNA that is thousands of years old to learn more about our human ancestors.
Twist Bioscience, a DNA storage startup, figured out how to make hyperdense, stable, affordable DNA storage: Their robots deposit microscopic drops of nucleotides on silicon chips and can create a million short strands of DNA at a time.
The end result will be a tiny, pill-sized container into which we will someday fit hundreds of terabytes of capacity.
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