U.S. Intelligence Community Wants To Use DNA For Data Storage

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by Aaron Kesel, Activist Post:

The U.S. intelligence community wants to unlock more efficient ways to store troves of data humans generate every day, and it believes inside DNA is the storage area, NextGov reported.

The Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity last month issued a broad agency announcement seeking research teams for the agency’s Molecular Information Storage program, which aims to create a system for storing vast quantities of data on sequence-controlled polymers, like human DNA.

Selected teams would have two primary assignments over the four-year initiative: build a table-top device that writes data onto polymers and another that reads the information once it’s stored. Teams must also develop an operating system to index, access and search data within the network.

By the program’s end, the system must be able to write one terabyte and read 10 terabytes per day, and “present a clear and commercially viable path to future deployment at the exabyte scale” within 10 years, according to IARPA.

Encoding into DNA isn’t a new concept; a group of researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology previously found a way to encode data onto DNA—the code of life that all living beings’ genetic information is stored on—that could survive for millennia. One gram of DNA can potentially hold up to 455 exabytes of data, according to New Scientist.

Another group of scientists at Harvard University encoded a book onto DNA in 2012, and that research has since evolved further as more and more scientists are attempting to use DNA as a storage medium.

While the hard drives of many desktop computers sold today are mostly able to store one terabyte of information, other researchers at Harvard created a technique years ago that could store 700 terabytes on a single gram of DNA. Than another team advanced their research and pushed the limit by raising the capacity to 2200 terabytes.

In 2015, other groups of researchers at the University of Illinois, led by Professor Olgica Milenkovic, detailed a new system capable of storing 490 exabytes on a single gram, which is equal to 490 billion gigabytes!

Scientists create data-encoded DNA by taking advantage of its inherent coding language. DNA is made up of four chemicals — commonly known as A, C, G and T, that can be converted into the 1s and 0s we are already accustomed to using for data storage. As Quartz noted, it’s an incredibly efficient system:

One gram of DNA can potentially hold up to 455 exabytes of data, according to the New Scientist. For reference: There are one billion gigabytes in an exabyte, and 1,000 exabytes in a zettabyte. The cloud computing company EMC estimated that there were 1.8 zettabytes of data in the world in 2011, which means we would need only about 4 grams (about a teaspoon) of DNA to hold everything from Plato through the complete works of Shakespeare to Beyonce’s latest album (not to mention every brunch photo ever posted on Instagram).

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