Microsoft is buying ten million strands of DNA from startup firm Twist Bioscience, to examine the use of genetic material to store data. 

The data density of DNA is multiple times higher than today’s conventional storage systems. DNA can store 1 billion terabytes (1 zettabyte) of data in 1 gram, and its lifespan is measurable in millennia. DNA is robust, with fragments thousands of years old still being successfully sequenced. These properties make it a significant choice for long-time data archiving.

According to About Education, 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.

Image: Microsoft/University of Washington
Image: Microsoft/University of Washington

Researchers from Microsoft and University of Washington are collaborating in a new paper that existing disk-based and optical media are not keeping up with the exponential growth in demand for data storage, much of which is infrequently accessed or ‘cold’ data.

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.

[Tech 2]