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Microsoft is exploring the possibility of using synthetic DNA as a storage medium

By Wong Chung Wee - on 29 Apr 2016, 11:55am

Microsoft is exploring the possibility of using synthetic DNA as a storage medium

(Source: University of Washington)

According to Ars Technica, Microsoft is exploring the use of synthetic DNA as a storage medium. The Redmond software giant has agreed to purchase 10 million long oligonucleotides from Twist Bioscience, in order to study the possibility of building a commercially viable data archival storage system.

(Source: University of Washington)

Synthetic oligonucleotides are typically single-stranded DNA, and according to Microsoft Research, DNA is potentially suitable for data storage as it is a highly durable and dense material. According to the research lab, DNA has a half-life of 500 years, and has the potential to store up to 1 exabyte or 1,000TB of data per cubic millimeter. Despite improvements in current data storage media that are either magnetic or optical in nature, they aren’t keeping pace with the rate at which data is created. With the exponential growth of demand for data storage, Microsoft hopes to reach a significant breakthrough with DNA storage.

“Today, the vast majority of digital data is stored on media that has a finite shelf life and periodically needs to be re-encoded. DNA is a promising storage media, as it has a known shelf life of several thousand years, offers a permanent storage format and can be read for continuously decreasing costs,” commented Emily M. Leproust, Ph.D., CEO of Twist Bioscience. “Our silicon-based DNA synthesis platform offers unmatched scale and product quality that vastly accelerates the ability to write DNA at a cost enabling data storage. We are thrilled to work with Microsoft, and University of Washington researchers, to address the growing challenge of digital data storage.”

Twist Bioscience is the biotech company that will supply the storage DNA to Microsoft and they claim their silicon-based DNA synthesis platform “...offers unmatched scale and product quality….”  The DNA storage project was first launched as a collaborative project between Microsoft Research and a team of researchers from the University of Washington, United States. It may be many years before the fruits of their labor see the day of light, but their initial test results are promising as they had demonstrated the reliability of their synthetic DNA in data storing and retrieval, without affecting data integrity.

(Source: Twist Bioscience via Ars Technica, Microsoft Research, University of Washington (1),(2))

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