Next Generation Digital Data Storage – DNA

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Next Generation Digital Data Storage – DNA

  • Posted: February 11, 2019
  • By: Admin

The world population has been estimated to reach about 7,500,000,000 by the end of 2017. Let’s think about the digital data we are creating and using; 44 trillion gigabytes of data by 2020. We are definitely going to be out of storage space if we rely only on the digital storage mediums and devices used by public today. As we all know,  we were short of IPv4 addresses so IPv6 was introduced but we can see the time taken for it to reach all around the world. So, if we won’t start in today’s time, we might be short of time afterwards.


The next big question arises that, where shall the data be stored in near future then? The “where” of the near future, many researchers believe, will be on DNA strands, which can store thousands more gigabytes than the best iPhone on the market. Millions of years of evolution have perfected this form of biological information storage.


Scientists have been talking and we have been listening about the DNA data storage from a very long time. Due to its high cost and errors, it was just limited to an idea. Lately, from an article published in science, scientists have confirmed that they have made the process of storage 100% error free and 60% more efficient compared to previous results approaching the theoretical maximum for DNA storage.


DNA digital data storage refers to any process to store digital data in the base sequence of DNA. This technology uses artificial DNA made using commercially available oligonucleotide synthesis machines for storage and DNA sequencing machines for retrieval. This type of storage system is more compact than current magnetic tape or hard drive storage systems due to the data density of the DNA. It also has the capability for longevity, as long as the DNA is held in cold, dry and dark conditions, as is shown by the study of woolly mammoth DNA from up to 60,000 years ago, and for resistance to obsolescence, as DNA is a universal and fundamental data storage mechanism in biology. These features have led to researchers involved in their development to call this method of data storage “apocalypse-proof” because “after a hypothetical global disaster, future generations might eventually find the stores and be able to read them.” It is, however, a slow process, as the DNA needs to be sequenced in order to retrieve the data, and so the method is intended for uses with a low access rate such as long-term archival of large amounts of scientific data. Even so, a few hurdles remain until this becomes a regular data storage solution. For one thing, it’s still quite time-consuming and expensive.


The new method works like a simple Sudoku puzzle, essentially using hints to keep any lost data from ruining the overall picture. “Even if you don’t get all the numbers, you can still solve the Sudoku puzzle,” Yaniv Erlich, co-author of the paper and a professor of computer science at Columbia University has his say. According to the study, done in collaboration with New York Genome Center’s Dina Zielinski, this method is much more efficient than previous ones, allowing for more data to be squeezed into and out of DNA strands—fitting 215,000,000 gigabytes on one gram of DNA. Compare that to the DVD’s max of 8.5 gigabytes, or the iPhone’s max of 256 gigabytes.


In comparison, in a 2013 study, other researchers managed to fit about 2,000,000 gigabytes on one gram of DNA. Scientists are looking to DNA for data storage for several reasons: it can pack tons of information into very small molecules, it’ll never become obsolete (unlike CDs or cassettes), and it can last for tens of thousands of years.


How does it works?

The four-lettered nucleobase alphabet of DNA (A, C, G and T) can be transformed into binary code for example, as 00 for A, 01 for C, 10 for G and 11 for T. The crucial advance in this new study is the use of DNA Fountain, or fountain codes a bit of coding theory that lets you transform whole files into encoded chunks, or “droplets” to store the files, which Erlich said protects against corruption. If you have a fountain of encoded data, and catch enough droplets, you can put the file back together.


Each of these is a feat in and of itself. DNA storage requires cutting-edge techniques in data compression and security to design a sequence both info-dense enough to realize DNA’s potential and redundant enough to allow robust error-checking to improve the accuracy of information retrieved down the line.


Very little of the technology on display here is new, since the most important parts of the system have existed much longer than mankind itself. But if all the data necessary to code for Albert Einstein was contained within the nucleus of every single cell of Albert Einstein’s body, as it was, then this classical approach to data storage must have something going for it. Researchers in this field set out to understand and harness that something, and they’re getting better at it seemingly every couple of months.


At the end of the day, DNA’s key special attribute it data storage density: how much information can DNA fit into a given unit volume? The NSA’s largest, most notorious data-center is an enormous, sprawling complex full of networked racks of magnetic storage drives — but according to some estimates, DNA could take the volume of data contained in about a hundred industrial data centers and store it in a space roughly the size of a shoe box.

DNA achieves this in two ways. One, the coding units are very small, less than half a nanometer to a side, where the transistors of a modern, advanced computer storage drive struggle to beat the 10 nanometer mark. But the increase in storage capacity isn’t just ten- or a hundred-fold, but thousands-fold. That differential arises from the second big advantage of DNA: it has no problem packing three-dimensionally.

Sequencing has gotten much faster and cheaper over time and that’s good, because we need to sequence DNA data to read it.


See, transistors are generally aligned on a flat plane, meaning their ability to fully use a given space is pretty low. We can of course stack many such flat boards one atop another, but at that point a new and totally debilitating problem arises: heat. One of the most challenging parts of designing new transistor-based technologies, whether they’re processors or storage devices, is heat. The more tightly you pack silicon transistors, the more heat you’ll create, and the harder it will be to ferry that heat away from the device. This both limits the maximum density, and requires that we supplement the cost of the drives themselves with expensive cooling systems.

With its super-efficient packing structure, the DNA double helix offers a great solution. Chromatin, the DNA-protein system that makes up chromosomes, is essentially a very complex mechanism designed to allow an inherently sticky molecule like DNA to roll up really tight, yet still unroll quickly and easily later on, when certain patches of DNA are needed by the body.


However, scientists note the new approach isn’t ready for large-scale use yet. It cost $7000 to synthesize the 2 megabytes of data in the files, and another $2000 to read it. The cost is likely to come down over time, but it still has a long ways to go, Erlich says. And compared with other forms of data storage, writing and reading to DNA is relatively slow. So the new approach isn’t likely to fly if data are needed instantly, but it would be better suited for archival applications. Then again, who knows? Perhaps those giant Facebook and Amazon data centers will one day be replaced by a couple of pickup trucks of DNA.

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