DNA Storage to Replace Long-term Electronic Storage?

DNA Storage to Replace Long-term Electronic Storage?

Faced with increasing data storage costs and a data volume that was growing faster than the capacity of the hard drives used to hold it, Nick Goldman and Ewan Birney (two researchers at the European Bioinformatics Institute in England) needed to find a way to store the massive volume of genomic data being generated by their research group.  Their solution?  Artificially constructed DNA.

They managed to encode 739.3 kilobytes of unique information using a method that significantly reduced copying errors, a commonly encountered problem with DNA storage.  During testing, they encoded and decoded 5 computer files with only a slight glitch when two base segments of DNA went missing.  But they’re confident that tweaks to their encoding process will eliminate such errors in the future.  They also believe their technology may be capable of storing the roughly 3 zettabytes (a zettabyte is one billion trillion or 10²¹ bytes) of digital data thought presently to exist in the world and still have room for plenty more.

Their research also demonstrated two significant downsides of this storage technology:

  • Cost – The estimated cost of their storage method is approximately $12,400 per megabyte
  • Slow read back speed – It took them 2 weeks to reconstruct 5, relatively small files

While DNA storage was unfortunately not suitable for storing the genome data they needed to quickly provide over the Internet, the researchers demonstrated the viability of DNA storage for the long-term storage (say 50+ years) of infrequently accessed information provided DNA sequencing and synthesizing costs can be significantly reduced.

For more information, including details of the encoding process, check out a recent Economist article on their research.

For a complete accounting of their research, check out the researchers’ recent article in Nature.  A preview of the article is available for free and the article is available via the magazine’s paywall.

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    Sheila Taylor
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    Case in Point

    That's A Lot of Records!
    Often the requirement for a needs assessment is driven by a specific initiative being considered or an immediate problem to be solved, rather than a general desire to establish a corporate (or organization-wide) IM program. We had a client wanting to improve its management of a specific group of critical records – thousands of member files in paper, microform and digital formats containing hundreds of unique document types.
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    Ergo reviewed the organization’s current practices for managing those records, compared those practices to best practices, and identified risks and areas for improvement. From there we developed a strategic plan with a focus on records storage and retention. The plan identified the operational, financial and technological requirements for implementing the recommended changes, improvements and enhancements in the lifecycle management of the member records. Activities in the plan were classified as short term (next 6-12 months), medium term (next 12-24 months) and longer term (next 25+ months).
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    Implementation of the strategic plan enabled this organization to ensure its member records are properly identified, organized, accessible, protected and retained as long as necessary to meet operational and other requirements.
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