22 August 2017
Microsoft Corp is extending its collaboration with synthetic biology company Twist Bioscience to buy 10 million strands of DNA to continue its expanded digital data storage research. The strands will be used by the researchers at Microsoft and the University of Washington to conduct future experiments. The deal will facilitate studies into data storage using biological molecules, rather than electromechanical devices.
The deal comes more than a year after an initial purchase of the same number of strands for data storage. Last summer, researchers at Microsoft and UW said they were able to store and retrieve 200 megabytes of DNA-encoded data with 100% accuracy. Twist said:
“After working together for over a year, the organizations have improved storage density, thereby reducing the cost of DNA digital data storage by encoding more data per strand and increasing the throughput of DNA production."
DNA data storage takes advantage of the four-letter molecular code that make up DNA. In theory the resulting data storage could use a lot less space to store a lot more information than current electromechanical systems. In theory, 1 trillion megabytes could be stored in a single cubic inch of DNA solution.
Luis Ceze, a UW professor of computer science and engineering who is one of the project’s lead researchers stated:
“Not only does DNA provide a high density, very long-term solution to digital data storage, it requires very little energy at rest compared to today’s storage technologies. In addition, DNA will never become obsolete as an information storage medium, since we will always care about reading DNA. No more migration from disk to tape to denser tape.”
Twist CEO Emily Leproust said her company was “thrilled” to be part of the project and was quoted as saying:
“We are delighted to see the positive response and growing excitement over DNA as a solution to our world's growing digital storage dilemma. We have taken up the challenge of massively increasing DNA synthesis scale to accelerate adoption of DNA as the logical replacement for current legacy electronic and magnetic storage technologies. We are thrilled to continue our work with Microsoft and the University of Washington researchers to drive this technology forward."
However Microsoft researcher Karin Strauss noted that the technology still faces many challenges.
"Demand for data storage has been growing at break-neck pace. Organizations and consumers who need to store a lot of data – for example, medical data or personal video footage – will benefit from a new long term storage solution. We believe DNA may provide that answer."