Ever wondered how many DNA-containing cells you would need to store the latest Avengers movie on your storage device? The previous sentence might sound really strange to you, but utilizing currently available DNA technologies to store large amounts of data (read “digital data”) might be the future of data storage. Data scientist Goldman was talking with his fellow bioinformaticians in a hotel in Hamburg (Germany) one day when the question popped up: “What is to stop us from using DNA to store data?” .
Biological scientists are able to store large amounts of data using current DNA technologies. Utilizing DNA technologies to store data encoded in DNA would offer great potential with the current data-driven society. There is roughly one kg of DNA needed to store all of the world’s data . The DNA is encoded using a three-step-plan: the text or image you want to store is converted into binary code, this binary code is subsequently converted into triplet code (known from the amino acids). The final step is to convert the triplet codes into DNA code (A/T/G/C). These synthesized DNA strands can be stored in a freezer until the data is needed. The one in 100 DNA synthesis error is considered negligible using this three-step-plan . In comparison to the traditional hard disk or flash drive technology, such as the USB, DNA data storage is just as fast; or even faster. Also, the amount of data that can be stored might increase by 100-fold while power usage is negligible in comparison to the traditional data storage . This raises the question: what is holding this innovative technology back?
Currently, it is already possible to store reasonable amounts of data using DNA . Current systems can be used to store data for a long period, such as classified documents. These systems have a comprehensible amount of DNA-strands to retrieve 100% of the data. Storing immense amounts of data in DNA, such as large paper archives, could reduce the space that is necessary for storage. Technical difficulties are encountered in future high-capacity systems since we are currently unable to retrieve 100% of the data in those amounts of DNA-strands . It is conceivable that in such systems, an extremely high density of DNA-strands is hard to capture completely . Furthermore, due to potential off-target molecular interactions, we are limited to a finite number of DNA-strains which subsequently limit system capacities . In addition, DNA data storage remains impractical for the use of daily work usage due to the necessary sequencing step . DNA data storage is an extremely impressive technique with lots of possibilities, but technical improvements are needed for the use in daily life, such as storing the latest avengers movie.
 Extance A. How DNA could store all the world’s data. Nature; 537(7618): 22-4 (2016).
 Tomek KJ, Volkel K, Simpson A, et al. Driving the Scalability of DNA-Based Information Storage Systems. ACS synthetic biology (2019).