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Author Topic: Need to store 5.5 Petabits long term? Try DNA.  (Read 2101 times)

40hz

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Need to store 5.5 Petabits long term? Try DNA.
« on: August 22, 2012, 12:08:28 PM »
Experiments have been going on for a while to use DNA molecules as a data storage medium. But a Harvard team has recently beat the previous record for storage by successfully storing 5.5 petabits of data (approximately 700 terabytes) in one gram of DNA. Unlike some of the quantum based storage methods currently being researched, DNA storage does not require exotic environments or extreme temperatures to work since DNA is stable at normal room temperatures.

There's a video on Vimeo where the team talks about the project. Link here.

A quick write-up can be found here.

A more technical article is available on the Harvard Medical School website. Link here.

Some interesting highlights about the possibilities of this technology:

Quote
And where some experimental media—like quantum holography—require incredibly cold temperatures and tremendous energy, DNA is stable at room temperature. “You can drop it wherever you want, in the desert or your backyard, and it will be there 400,000 years later,” Church said.
 
Reading and writing in DNA is slower than in other media, however, which makes it better suited for archival storage of massive amounts of data, rather than for quick retrieval or data processing. “Imagine that you had really cheap video recorders everywhere,” Church said. “Just paint walls with video recorders. And for the most part they just record and no one ever goes to them. But if something really good or really bad happens you want to go and scrape the wall and see what you got. So something that’s molecular is so much more energy efficient and compact that you can consider applications that were impossible before.”
 
About four grams of DNA theoretically could store the digital data humankind creates in one year.

There's also an interesting note for those who may have ethical or religious concerns about this particular type of project (emphasis added):
 
Quote
Although other projects have encoded data in the DNA of living bacteria, the Church team used commercial DNA microchips to create standalone DNA. “We purposefully avoided living cells,” Church said. “In an organism, your message is a tiny fraction of the whole cell, so there’s a lot of wasted space. But more importantly, almost as soon as a DNA goes into a cell, if that DNA doesn’t earn its keep, if it isn’t evolutionarily advantageous, the cell will start mutating it, and eventually the cell will completely delete it.”

The full research team's report has been published on Science magazine's website (Sorry! $$$ or subscription req.).

Very cool stuff. 8)


f0dder

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Re: Need to store 5.5 Petabits long term? Try DNA.
« Reply #1 on: August 22, 2012, 12:18:37 PM »
Hrm.

Doesn't DNA mutate if it's not part of a cell? And is it more stable than magnetic storage, given the kind environmental exposure it'll undergo (background radiation, whatever)? I guess some of that can be overcome by making a gazillion duplicates of the data, but... sorta seems a bit risky. Probably just my limited knowledge, though :)
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Renegade

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Re: Need to store 5.5 Petabits long term? Try DNA.
« Reply #2 on: August 22, 2012, 12:24:44 PM »
Doesn't DNA mutate if it's not part of a cell?

Oh god... Imagine when someone's horror movie collection runs rampant... :D

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Edvard

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Re: Need to store 5.5 Petabits long term? Try DNA.
« Reply #3 on: August 22, 2012, 12:48:08 PM »
AFAIK, the artificial DNA they're talking about is XNA, which is man-made polymers rigged to plug in to the same places that the four nucleobases go in regular DNA.  In a cell, there is a constant replicating process going on where mutations are introduced, and current experiments show XNA keeping an average 95-99.6% replication fidelity; excellent for evolution researchers, not so much for storing data.  What I think the article is talking about is using DNA (or rather, XNA) as a static storage medium outside of the squishy environment of constant biological replicating and encoding.  It would then be just encoding and storage, and so mutation (and thus, corruption of the original information) wouldn't happen, or wouldn't happen to the same degree so that you could rely on simple redundancy (beaker full of RAID, anyone?) or some sort of error-correction.

Then again, IANAS either, so my understanding could definitely be as off as yours, possibly more...  ;)

jgpaiva

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Re: Need to store 5.5 Petabits long term? Try DNA.
« Reply #4 on: August 22, 2012, 02:45:38 PM »
Oh, maybe it's this what amazon is using for Amazon Glacier :P

SeraphimLabs

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Re: Need to store 5.5 Petabits long term? Try DNA.
« Reply #5 on: August 22, 2012, 03:52:43 PM »
You wouldn't want to rely on a single molecule for a given dataset either though, that's just asking for single bit errors or worse. And it's easy enough to duplicate it that you might as well make copies, because with that kind of information density you could easily fit entire petabit raid volumes into a wrist watch sized package.

But my concerns would be related to storage and handling, and exactly how tolerant is it of things like radiation and heat.



f0dder

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Re: Need to store 5.5 Petabits long term? Try DNA.
« Reply #6 on: August 22, 2012, 04:05:51 PM »
But my concerns would be related to storage and handling, and exactly how tolerant is it of things like radiation and heat.
Yep - and though you do extreme redundancy because of the data density, you'd need to be able to compare a lot of copies in order to determine the correct bits... and the article mentions that both reading and writing is (currently) slower than normal media. You'd also want to store data at multiple sites, and then you have the classical problem of link speed between those sites - now just with insanely larger data collections :)

But it's interesting technology, and I definitely hope they'll get any kinks sorted out.
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SeraphimLabs

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Re: Need to store 5.5 Petabits long term? Try DNA.
« Reply #7 on: August 22, 2012, 04:23:25 PM »
But my concerns would be related to storage and handling, and exactly how tolerant is it of things like radiation and heat.
Yep - and though you do extreme redundancy because of the data density, you'd need to be able to compare a lot of copies in order to determine the correct bits... and the article mentions that both reading and writing is (currently) slower than normal media. You'd also want to store data at multiple sites, and then you have the classical problem of link speed between those sites - now just with insanely larger data collections :)

But it's interesting technology, and I definitely hope they'll get any kinks sorted out.

Yeah but it is done at the molecular level. All they have to do is design a molecule that pairs the molecules up for reading, in the process making any that are mismatched get knocked out of suspension so that they do not get read.

Then all the reader has to do is pick a confirmed molecule out of each batch of pairs, scan it, and send the data on it's way.

Essentially take one from nature, and engineer the rest of the organic processes involved in DNA handling. Although mutations might take place a little more often, it wouldn't take much to use the bacterial ability of copying DNA cell to cell to make the data self-repairing.

fenixproductions

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Re: Need to store 5.5 Petabits long term? Try DNA.
« Reply #8 on: August 23, 2012, 03:33:33 AM »
"sarcastic trolling"
the Church team used commercial DNA microchips to create standalone DNA

To think they were burning witches not so long ago ;)