DNA makes it possible to store immense amounts of information in very small volumes, without consuming energy. However, several technical challenges remain to be overcome in order to democratize this process. An MIT discovery has just solved one, providing a method to more easily recover a specific file.
Using DNA to store our data, the idea may sound strange. In reality, this technology has enormous potential: DNA can house immense amounts of information in very small volumes, without consuming electricity. The sector has just made a major breakthrough. Scientists at MIT have developed a technique to simplify the recovery of precise data stored in DNA. They presented their results in a study published on June 10 on Nature Materials.
” Each file is encapsulated in a 6 micron silica particle. This particle is labeled with a short DNA sequence that reveals the content stored in it. », Explains MIT. The team of scientists have demonstrated that they can safely retrieve an individual image from a DNA sequence containing 20 images. Given the number of labels that can be created, the researchers estimate that it will be possible to use this technique on sequences containing up to 1,020 files.
Recover an image stored in DNA
This discovery is important because it resolves one of the major problems in this area. Until now, files stored on DNA were recovered using a polymerase chain reaction. However, this technique has two big drawbacks: it sometimes brings out files other than those sought, and above all it consumes most of the DNA of the dose. ” It’s like setting the haystack on fire to find the needle Says MIT Biological Engineering Professor Mark Bathe.
The method developed by his team makes it possible to recover a file without damaging the rest of the DNA – which can thus be stored again. It is even possible, thanks to this process, to use Boolean logic to select a file: by searching for example ” President AND 18th century », The user will thus obtain the file relating to George Washington, just like on Google Images.
Store data without consuming electricity
The MIT team believes that this DNA archiving technique could be used to store “cold” data such as that contained in archives, and which does not need to be accessed very frequently. Several technical challenges remain to be taken up to make this process viable. Synthesizing DNA is indeed still expensive. ” Writing 1 million Gb of data on DNA would cost $ 1 trillion “, Underlines the MIT. The costs of this process are, however, expected to decline in the decades to come.
And if scientists manage to make the technique less expensive, DNA storage will open up tremendous prospects. ” On Earth, there is currently 10 trillion Gb of digital data and every day, humans produce 2.5 million Gb of emails, photos, tweets and files. », Explains MIT. This data is stored in huge data centers that cost around $ 1 billion to build and maintain. These data centers also consume a lot of electricity.
A cup of DNA can house data from the planet
DNA has many strengths to make against them, because it can store much larger amounts of information in the same volume. DNA is a thousand times denser than flash memory, says Mark Bathe. A cup of coffee filled with DNA could theoretically store all of the planet’s data. Another advantage: ” once the DNA polymer is created, it does not consume any energy. We can edit DNA and store it forever “.
Scientists have proven that they are able to encode images or texts in DNA. The information is also stored in a manner quite similar to that used by the IT sector, which encodes information in the form of 0 and 1. With DNA, these are the four nucleotides (A, T, G, C) which are used to encode the data. ” The G and the C can for example be used to represent the 0, and the A and the T to represent the 1 », Explains MIT.