What if the answer to our big data storage problem lies not within the cloud, but inside our bodies? They say more data has been created in the past two years than in our entire world history. A massive 2.5 quintillion bytes of data is generated each day through our interactions online. It’s been such a hot topic in recent years with sites like Facebook flaunting the ethics of such data collection and storage. In fact, it is said that this year alone, people are set to spend more than a billion years online. We are producing data at an exponential rate, and whilst cloud storage is currently booming, researchers are looking to other methods like storing data in DNA.
DNA is essentially a blueprint of ourselves. All living things have DNA, and it’s genetically passed down through generations. This genetic coding can fit billions of gigabytes onto one sole gram, more specifically 215 petabytes or 215 million gigabytes of data! Our understanding of DNA and it’s uses are changing the world; healthcare, research, agriculture, environmentalism.
It’s made up of four different subunits, that are broken down into the letters A T G C, with each DNA cell consisting of three of these letters, not dissimilar to the way in which data translates into 1s and 0s.
Unlike other methods of data storage, DNA won’t perish or have the potential to break like floppy disks, tapes or CD’s. It’s extremely compact and it’s not going to go obsolete! As it is so small and dense, under the right conditions DNA can stand the test of time, with the oldest example of human DNA hailing from over 400,000 years ago.
DNA data storage research is being backed by companies like Microsoft, and whilst the technology is gradually becoming commercially available, prices are so high it’s not yet a viable option for many businesses. Researchers at Harvard have successfully stored a genetics textbook in DNA in 2012. And since then, Ewan Birney of the European Bioinformatics Institute and his team have successfully copied a MP3 of Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have A Dream’ speech, and all of Shakespeare’s sonnets amongst other things, showcasing the vast capabilities of the product.
Whilst it’s easy to see that once costs are more affordable, DNA storage options will be an overwhelmingly popular method. Researchers are not only interested in DNA for its data storage abilities but also for biological computing; using DNA and proteins to carry out computational processes. Because of the vast storage capabilities of DNA, this could allow millions of computations to be carried out simultaneously. For healthcare, imagine the possibilities if DNA based computers could enter into the human system and diagnose or treat illness at these speeds.
DNA data stores like this could long outlive the human race as we know it. In another 400,000 years, could the data we store on DNA now be the key for generations way into the future to understand more about us now?