The amount of new digital data grows by 2.5 million gigabytes every day, according to MIT, adding to the approximately 10 trillion gigabytes of digital data that already exists. All of this data — movies, music, and more — are stored in huge data centers that are both costly and increasingly massive. This represents a growing problem as the world becomes increasingly digitized and archival demands grow.
Past research has highlighted DNA as a potential way to store large amounts of data without the space and cost requirements that come with data centers. MIT has built upon that work in a newly published study, with researchers asserting that all of the world’s digital data could theoretically be stored in a single mug filled with DNA.
This is due to DNA’s high density, enabling it to hold huge amounts of data relative to its size. Though we’ve previously seen examples of storing digital data like text or images as DNA, this new work focuses on an important aspect of the budding technology: retrieving the info you want from multiple pieces of DNA storing many files.
According to their new study, MIT researchers have demonstrated this ability using a 6-micrometer silica particle storing 20 images. Short DNA sequences were used as labels with the file’s content, enabling the researchers to successfully pull the individual images they wanted from the DNA-stored album.
Though it may sound unusual, DNA offers many benefits when it comes to mass data storage and not just because of its high density. According to the researchers, data stored this way would be ‘extremely stable.’ MIT biological engineering professor Mark Bathe explained:
We need new solutions for storing these massive amounts of data that the world is accumulating, especially the archival data. DNA is a thousandfold denser than even flash memory, and another property that’s interesting is that once you make the DNA polymer, it doesn’t consume any energy. You can write the DNA and then store it forever.