Microsoft just bought 10m synthetic DNA molecules for data


If you put all the DNA molecules in your body end to end, the DNA would reach from the Earth to the Sun and back over 600 times (100 trillion times six feet divided by 92 million miles). If you could type 60 words per minute, eight hours a day, it would take approximately 50 years to type the human genome. Simply put, it contains a whole lot of genetic data.

Microsoft is looking to tap into the DNA model of data storage as the amount of digital data produced has long been outpacing the amount of storage available. This project enables molecular-level data storage into DNA molecules by leveraging biotechnology advances in synthesizing, manipulating and sequencing DNA to develop archival storage. Microsoft and University of Washington researchers are collaborating to use DNA as a high density, durable and easy-to-manipulate storage medium, informs the company in its blog.

The blog explains that most of the world’s data today is stored on magnetic and optical media. Despite improvements in optical discs, storing a zettabyte of data would still take many millions of units, and use significant physical space. If we are to preserve the world’s data, we need to seek significant advances in storage density and durability. Using DNA to archive data is an attractive possibility because it is extremely dense (up to about 1 exabyte per cubic millimeter) and durable (half-life of over 500 years), informs the blog.

Microsoft says that while this is not practical yet due to the current state of DNA synthesis and sequencing, these technologies are improving quite rapidly with advances in the biotech industry. “Given the impending limits of silicon technology (end of Moore’s Law), we believe hybrid silicon and biochemical systems are worth serious consideration. Biotechnology has benefitted tremendously from progress in silicon technology developed by the computer industry; now is the time for computer architects to consider incorporating biomolecules as an integral part of computer design,” says Microsoft on a hopeful note.

The company has also recently purchased 10-million-long oligonucleotides (DNA or RNA molecules) from San Francisco startup Twist Bioscience, in an effort to carry this further.

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