DNA as digital storage

MARA Blog

Published: June 29, 2016 by Anna Maloney

Thanks to technology, information professionals are able to preserve just about any record in a digital format. But as digital records and big data proliferate (digital data is estimated to reach 44 trillion gigabytes—an almost incomprehensible number—by 2020), there have been questions about which digital storage medium is most sustainable over the long-term. One exciting research trend, covered by Tech Times and other sources, is the use of synthetic DNA for digital storage. “In a study, [researchers] detailed a new technique they have developed which allowed them to successfully encode four image files worth of digital data…More importantly they were able to reverse the process and retrieve the right sequences…without compromising an information byte” (Tech Times, 10 April 2016).

There are two key advantages to DNA storage. First, it offers a higher storage density, as “1 gram of DNA is equivalent to nearly 1 billion TB of data” (Tech Times, 29 April 2016). Second, DNA can stay unharmed and readable for anywhere between one thousand and ten thousand years—a shelf life that is unmatched by any storage mediums available now. While it will be several years before DNA storage is market-ready, Microsoft recently invested in the research through the acquisition of 10 million strands of synthetic DNA.

The question for us is how can archivists and records managers participate in the development of a market-ready DNA storage solution?