Automated DNA data storage takes a step forward

Date: 21st March 2019

DNA as a data storage system is becoming an increasingly attractive model for the increasing amounts of data being generated by digital applications, which is at an all time high and will continue to grow globally. Indeed, the high density of DNA (1 gram can reportedly hold gigabytes of data) and robustness (this molecule has been around for millions of years!) means that DNA holds valuable properties over conventional data storage systems which require large amounts of space and energy to function. However, whilst there is the capacity for DNA as a data storage system it is often a labour-intense, error-prone and costly process to achieve this.

To this end Microsoft and colleagues at the University of Washington have developed the first full end-to-end automated DNA storage device.  Consisting of three core components for the write-store-read process; including an encode/decode software module, a DNA synthesis module, and a DNA preparation and sequencing module.  Step 1 in this was to translate the digital data into a DNA sequence tat ius compatible with the read process (1’s and 0’s into G, A, T and C’s).  Step 2 involved sending the DNA sequence  to the synthesis module, and eluting the output DNA into a storage vessel.  The resultant DNA was then ‘read’ by a sequencing device, and the decoder software able to translate the sequence back to its digital form.  Although the yield of data retrieval was low at this time point, the system successfully stored and extracted the simple message “Hello” in 21 hours.

There are many planned optimisations for the future, including questions around scale, but this exciting piece of work takes us one step closer to DNA storage devices becoming a reality. With Microsoft hitting the news a few weeks ago launching a new platform for programming biology they are certainly investing in the digitalisation of science.

Takahashi, C. N., B. H. Nguyen, K. Strauss and L. Ceze (2019). “Demonstration of End-to-End Automation of DNA Data Storage.” Scientific Reports 9(1): 4998.