Access and Feeds

Data Storage: DNA Microcapsules Revolutionize Archival Technology

By Dick Weisinger

Shortly, data storage will undergo a revolutionary transformation. Instead of storing data as zeros and ones on hard drives, scientists are envisioning a DNA data center that encodes information using the base pairs of DNA: AT and CG. This groundbreaking technology, developed by Professor Tom de Greef, is expected to render traditional data centers obsolete, providing a compact, long-lasting, and energy-efficient solution.

The process begins with the synthesis of synthetic DNA strands in a lab, where the bases are strategically combined to form DNA molecules. Files and photos that are typically stored in data centers can then be encoded into DNA for archival purposes. While the reading of DNA data is currently expensive, advancements are being made to optimize the process.

De Greef and his team have been focusing on the challenge of reading stored DNA data. The current method, called “random access” PCR (polymerase chain reaction), is error-prone and can only read one file at a time, leading to a significant loss of data quality with each read. To address this, they developed a technique called “thermo-confined PCR.” This involves encapsulating DNA files in microcapsules made of proteins and polymers. These capsules have thermal properties that facilitate separate PCR processes within each capsule. When the temperature is raised, the capsules seal themselves, allowing for individual PCR reactions. By lowering the temperature, the copies detach from the capsules, ensuring the original file remains intact. This method has shown promising results, with only a minimal loss of data quality.

To facilitate easy access and retrieval of data, each file is labeled with a fluorescent marker, and each capsule is assigned a unique color. A device can then recognize and separate the colors, simplifying the search process. This paves the way for a future where a robotic arm could efficiently select the desired file from a pool of capsules.

While the costs of DNA synthesis still need to decrease further, this innovative technique holds tremendous potential. Professor de Greef believes that once the costs become more affordable, the technology will be ready for practical implementation. The prospects are promising, and it is anticipated that the Netherlands will soon become home to the world’s first DNA data center.

With the advent of DNA microcapsules, data storage is on the brink of a transformative leap forward. This remarkable breakthrough in technology not only offers a compact and long-lasting solution for data storage but also has the potential to revolutionize the way we handle the ever-increasing amounts of data generated worldwide. As scientists continue to refine the technique, the day when DNA becomes a common medium for data storage draws closer, opening up a new era of possibilities for the future.

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