Microsoft is poised to acquire 10 million strands of DNA from Twist Bioscience which the company will possibly use for experiments in digital storage.

Twist Bioscience is a San Francisco-based biology startup that makes synthetic, storage-ready DNA. The startup revealed on April 27 that Microsoft has agreed to purchase the long oligonucleotides so that it could encode digital data effectively.

"As our digital data continues to expand exponentially, we need new methods for long-term, secure data storage. The initial test phase with Twist demonstrated that we could encode and recover 100 percent of the digital data from synthetic DNA. We're still years away from a commercially viable product, but our early tests with Twist demonstrate that in the future we'll be able to substantially increase the density and durability of data storage," noted Doug Carmean, a Microsoft partner architect in its Technology and Research organization.

When compared to traditional storage systems, the data density offered by DNA is of a higher scale. To illustrate, 1 gram of DNA is equivalent to nearly 1 billion TB (or 1 ZB) of data. Moreover, it is far more robust than conventional systems of storage as is evidenced by the fact that DNA fragments that are several thousand years old can be sequenced successfully.

An advantage DNA has over conventional tools of storage such as Blu-ray discs or hard drives is that it will stay not only unharmed but also readable for anywhere between 1,000 to 10,000 years.

Additionally, estimates by Microsoft Research have suggested that 1 cubic millimeter of DNA is able to store 1 EB or 1 billion GB worth of data. These traits make the use of DNA for digital data archival a viable option in the long term. Considering binary data is already stored successfully as DNA base pairs, the notion does not seem farfetched. A recent study also allowed scientists to store and retrieve digital photos in DNA.

With the dawn of the digital age where smartphones are an indispensable aspect of our lives, people are gravitating more and more toward the generation of texts, videos, photos, and audio than ever before. With so much data being generated, the area of DNA experimentation seems a step in the right direction.

Microsoft exploring the notion of deploying DNA molecules to archive huge amounts of data could be a precursor to how things may pan out in the future – so what if the technology is currently not ready for commercial products?

Photo: Robert Scoble | Flickr 

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