Soon we could potentially ditch conventional digital storage technology for DNA-based storage.

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Storing DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) data is nothing new. The process of recording binary data (the form of data that computers understand) on artificially synthesized strands of DNA has been around for decades.

Despite the enormous potential of DNA-based digital storage over conventional mechanical hard drives (HDDs) and solid-state drives (SSDs), due to the capacity of the former for high density storage and its low clutter, the limitations of current technology meant it was incredibly expensive and had very limited practical uses.

One of the tech’s biggest gripes was the incredibly slow read and write times. At the very least, modern conventional digital storage formats are able to record and read data in minutes, or even seconds, depending on the file size.

Encoding and decoding DNA data, however, is a cumbersome process that takes hours and even days, even for a relatively small amount of data.

However, a new technique developed by researchers at Northwestern University in Chicago, USA, holds promise for making digital DNA-based storage competitive and perhaps better than conventional alternatives.

In a paper published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, researchers came up with a revolutionary technique for recording DNA data that only takes a few minutes, unlike previous methods that took hours or even days.

The researchers used a new enzyme system to artificially synthesize strands of DNA that record “rapid changes in environmental signals directly in sequences.” The method could help change the way scientists study the human brain and the way neurons record data, the researchers say.

“Nature is good at copying DNA, but we wanted to be able to write DNA from scratch”, noted Professor Keith EJ Tyo, lead author of the article and professor at Northwestern University. “The ex vivo way of doing this involves slow chemical synthesis. Our method is much cheaper to write information because the enzyme that synthesizes DNA can be directly manipulated.”

Cover image: Shutterstock


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