Forget about SSDs and traditional hard drives. Microsoft is closer to introduce DNA data storage. The future of storage may not be limited by the number of memory chips your device has or the density at which the data is stored. For many researchers, DNA has the key to mass storage, in which we can store an absurd amount of information in the space occupied by a chain of molecules.
In a gram of DNA, it would be possible to store petabytes of information, a scale far superior to the terabytes to which we are already accustomed in storage. This would allow not only creating larger storage devices but also smaller and more efficient ones. A mobile phone could have several storage “teras” and be ridiculously small at the same time.
Microsoft takes a big step in data storage with DNA
However, until now that was all a futuristic idea and little else. An idea that Microsoft, together with researchers from the University of Washington, has made a reality with the first hard disk based on DNA. Although it is not the first time that information is stored in DNA, even remotely, this is the first functional device that uses DNA data storage.
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Therefore, this device, the size of a photocopier, is not only able to store data in DNA but can also read them; it behaves like any hard drive in that sense, although this costs much more to produce: nothing less than $10,000. But do not go to think that by the price you will have spectacular performance.
In the first tests, the researchers recorded something very simple, the word “hello” (hello). For this, it was started from the binary form of that word, (01001000 01000101 01001100 01001100 01001111); these bits were encoded in the DNA bases: A (adenine), G (guanine), C (cytosine) and T (thymine). The device then synthesized the resulting DNA and stored it in a liquid. At that time, the process of saving information has ended, and as a result, a microgram of DNA was stored.
The first DNA hard disk is capable of recording and reading information
The interesting thing is that the device also has a DNA decoder, so it can read the information that has been saved. First, the stored DNA is registered by a DNA sequencer and the decoder converts the sequence of bases into bits, which can be interpreted by a computer and converted into information, in this case, “hello”.
This entire process lasted for no less than 21 hours and taking into account that the information only occupied 5 bytes is not up to any storage device of the last decades. However, this is only the beginning; Researchers have already discovered a method to reduce the process to about 10 hours, and the machine itself can be much cheaper.
In short, we are only before the beginnings of this technology, and its benefits can compensate for this low performance. And while a hard drive or SSD can only store data for a few years, DNA data storage can last tens of thousands of years, as evidenced by the discovery of already extinct animal cells. Therefore, the team is already thinking about the following steps to integrate this technology with other systems.