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DNA Storage Now Available on Amazon

The world is creating enormous amounts of data. This is thanks to big data, which are huge sets created by various things – interconnected devices, the internet of things, and software as a service. Storing data has gone far beyond what a consumer might have on a hard drive. Nowadays, all sorts of technological devices produce data. And some of them produce vast quantities of it.

Think about this: 90% of the world’s data has been produced in the last 2 years. The problem comes with where to store all of this. Things are only going to get more data-intensive and the typical devices we use for storage now aren’t suitable for these.

George Church is a scientist who posed the idea of DNA storage in 2012. He encoded a book in DNA, then created 70 billion copies of it. Not only can a single strand of DNA store large amounts of data, but it also has the bonus of being tiny. All of the world’s data needs could be stored on 1 kilo of DNA – though that particular scenario isn’t possible yet.

However, the concept of DNA storage isn’t some far-flung future. In fact, it’s available on Amazon right now. A company called Helixworks have launched the DNADrive, the first commercially available DNA storage device. The company was founded in Ireland in 2015 and took in seed funding in 2016 to develop their propriety storage.

Their device is available on Amazon for $199. It stores 512KB of data – the size of a photo, for example. You send them the data, they encode it in DNA, then send it back to you in a 24-carat gold capsule. Okay, so this product is probably more of a publicity stunt of being the first product of its kind available on the market, but it’s still an impressive step.

Helixworks are storing their data using a technique called Molecular Storage System (MoSS). It’s open source and stores the data in the form of a chemical sequence. 0 and 1 are represented chemically using MoSS, with a sequence identifier denoting which direction to read the sequence in.

Using MoSS is just one of the ways that are being explored to using DNA as storage, but Helixworks believes theirs is the best since it’s a lot cheaper to encode per byte than other DNA methods. However, the downside is that read and write speeds are very slow for MoSS. Not only that, but the cost is prohibitive, as all new storage technologies are to begin with – they eventually drop down, like SSDs are doing.

Helixworks are just one of the companies working on bringing DNA storage to the market. Microsoft have been collaborating with Twist Bioscience on the task, along with researchers from the University of Washington. They’ve published a paper on the project called A DNA-Based Archival Storage System. Micron Technology, a chip maker, is also working with Boise State University researchers. And no doubt many others are too, in the race for the next storage technology.


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