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DNA Stores Data More Efficiently than Anything We’ve Created

A fasincating story at, “Harvard cracks DNA storage, crams 700 terabytes of data into a single gram,” reports that Harvard scientists have broken the record for the data storage density in DNA. According to the story, they “successfully stored 5.5 petabits of data — around 700 terabytes — in a single gram of DNA, smashing the previous DNA data density record by a thousand times.” To give an idea of how much information that is, Wikipedia reports that Google processes about 25 petabits of information each day. So this method, apparently, could store all of Google’s daily information in less than 5 grams of DNA. The article puts it this way:

Just think about it for a moment: One gram of DNA can store 700 terabytes of data. That’s 14,000 50-gigabyte Blu-ray discs… in a droplet of DNA that would fit on the tip of your pinky. To store the same kind of data on hard drives — the densest storage medium in use today — you’d need 233 3TB drives, weighing a total of 151 kilos. In Church and Kosuri’s case, they have successfully stored around 700 kilobytes of data in DNA — Church’s latest book, in fact — and proceeded to make 70 billion copies (which they claim, jokingly, makes it the best-selling book of all time!) totaling 44 petabytes of data stored.

So how did they do it? According to the article, the project

treats DNA as just another digital storage device. Instead of binary data being encoded as magnetic regions on a hard drive platter, strands of DNA that store 96 bits are synthesized, with each of the bases (TGAC) representing a binary value (T and G = 1, A and C = 0).

And of course, what this means is “Scientists have been eyeing up DNA as a potential storage medium for a long time.” There are good reasons for this:

  • First, the article reports DNA is “incredibly dense (you can store one bit per base, and a base is only a few atoms large).”
  • Second, DNA is “volumetric (beaker) rather than planar (hard disk),” again meaning you can pack it in efficiently.
  • Finally, DNA is “incredibly stable — where other bleeding-edge storage mediums need to be kept in sub-zero vacuums, DNA can survive for hundreds of thousands of years in a box in your garage.” This means that unlike magnetic hard drives which have a comparatively short lifespan, DNA could store data for a long time.

Nothing made by humans can approach these kind of specs. Who would have thought that DNA can store data more efficiently than anything we’ve created. But DNA wasn’t designed — right?