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DNA Storage Advances with the Ability to Overwrite

It might sound crazy and futuristic, but we could soon be storing our data on DNA. It’s something that researchers have been looking into for years. The amount of data that the world is producing is growing at an exponential rate and shows no signs of slowing data. The quantity is increasing, as is the amount of space each file takes up.

Put simply, DNA molecules are blocks arranged in a certain order. Take this logic and you can store masses amount of data, far greater than any existing storage medium. Not only that, but the information can last for thousands of years with no degeneration, which is a problem for a lot of former and current solutions.

Scientists across the globe are now working to try and make DNA a safe, efficient, and effective solution for storing data. The latest breakthrough comes from a group of researchers from the Cavendish Laboratory of the Physics department of Cambridge University.

Being able to store data on DNA isn’t anything new. In fact, feature length films have already been stored on it during experiments. However, this group from Cambridge have been able to overwrite data stored on DNA. Of course, the ability to overwrite data is a vital element of storage, otherwise you’ll be burning through endless number of devices.

One of the main problems with DNA as a solution right now is that it takes a lot of time and labour to create; it’s the synthesis of molecules with the base blocks that is intensive, along with the need for enzymes. However, the scientists were able to make the process look more like building blocks.

It’s also a long process to read the data stored within the genetic code. This is based on the synthesis of multiple copies of the molecule. This boosts the signal from the protein bonds. However, again, this is time consuming and expensive. Another method is to send a molecule through a nanopore and then, in real-time, calculate the sequence using the ion current drops that occur.

The new method from Cambridge follows controlling the annealing of single-strand DNA ends. Their reading program studies whether streptavidin occurs on specific DNA sites, marking it as a 1 or 0 accordingly. This all happens within milliseconds and it also means that data can not only be written, but crucially overwritten.

These DNA storage devices are called DNA hard drives (DNA-HD). You can store, read, and overwrite data, which is everything you need from an efficient storage device. Also, importantly, the information can only be read after providing the physical molecular key. You need to know the sequence of ends in the single-stranded DNA to know the zero and one sequence of nanopores.

Research will continue into DNA as a storage device. It’ll be a long time before it becomes mainstream, since the process is currently underdeveloped and extremely costly – if indeed it ever does become mainstream, since there are lots of other methods being investigated too. Whatever the answer is for our global storage demands, we need it soon.


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