Software giant Microsoft is buying ten million strands of synthetic DNA from Biology startup Twist Bioscience to investigate the use of genetic material to store data. The storage capacity of DNA is higher than conventional storage systems, with 1 gram of DNA able to represent close to 1 billion terabytes of big data. DNA is also remarkably robust and keeps data intact for 7,000 years. So, storing data on DNA makes an intriguing option for long term data archival.
However, the big difficulty at present is reading and writing the content on synthetic DNA. The writing is not that simple and involves a new technology developed by Twist which needs a lot of specifically designed machines.
As per the available reports, a custom DNA sequence costs about 10 cents per base, with twist hoping to get the cost down to 2 cents. Data reading uses genetic sequencing.
Reading the data uses genetic sequencing. The costs of this have dropped substantially over the last 20 years. The human genome project, which ran from 1990 to 2003, cost about $3 billion. The same task can now be done for about $1,000.
Those costs, though dropping, mean that commercial viability of synthetic DNA storage is still some way off, but the technology itself works. Microsoft says that its initial trials with Twist have shown that the process allowed full retrieval of the encoded data from the DNA. If the technology can be made cheap enough, it means that one day long-term data archiving could use the same technology as life itself.