Biology Technology

Microsoft to Store (lots of) Data on DNA

Many years ago I hacked my first Macintosh’s OS to make the display read something like “10 of 10 Yottabytes free of Molecular Memory.” It seems my idea had merit.

(Hacker News) Do you know – 1 Gram of DNA Can Store 1,000,000,000 Terabyte of Data for 1000+ Years. 

Just last year, Microsoft purchased 10 Million strands of synthetic DNA from San Francisco DNA synthesis startup called Twist Bioscience and collaborated with researchers from the University of Washington to focus on using DNA as a data storage medium.

However, in the latest experiments, a pair of researchers from Columbia University and the New York Genome Center (NYGC) have come up with a new technique to store massive amounts of data on DNA, and the results are marvelous.


Okay, 1 * 10^9 terabytes is only  0.001 yottabytes, but I predict they will improve the technology and someday I’ll be right.

It seems that Microsoft is exploring the idea of using DNA molecules as a way to store massive amounts of data. Unlike hard drives, Blu-Ray discs, or pretty much any current storage technology, DNA stays intact and readable for as long as 1,000 to 10,000 years.

Better yet, Microsoft Research estimates that one cubic millimeter of DNA can store one exabyte, or one billion gigabytes of data. That’s important as the rise of the smartphone era means we’re generating more photos, video, text, and audio than ever before, making this an important research area for Microsoft.

“As our digital data continues to expand exponentially, we need new methods for long-term, secure data storage,” says Microsoft Research’s Doug Carmean in the press release.

The technology is a long way away from ready for commercial products, so you won’t see a DNA-powered smartphone any time soon. But Microsoft says that the potential is clearly there, and that a test done with Twist Bio last fall went well, with 100% of its data encoded and later retrieved into the test DNA.

Twist Bioscience, which makes synthetic, storage-ready DNA, says in that press release that costs for this technology are getting lower all the time. That means we’re not that far away from an era where long-term data storage isn’t done on discs or drives, but in strands of customized organic material. Which is good, because current technology is struggling to keep pace.

To pursue that goal, Twist has raised $131 million from investors including Boris Nikolic, one of Bill Gates’ chief science advisors at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.


Great. I predict we will discover ourselves to be living backup copies of a former advanced civilization that seeded the universe with DNA. It is in our genes to encode everything we know into our genes, and to upgrade ourselves. 

First, we will use DNA to store data. Then we will store it in ourselves. Then we will build a way to access the data in our DNA with our minds. Then we get to a point where we give each new person a full library of knowledge. 

Imagine being born with the full knowledge of humanity built into your memory, no Internet needed. Take that even further: What if you could access everything every human being ever experienced? Imagine the understanding, compassion and intelligence that would bring us as a group.

Sounds impossible, but the future of  imagination is a place of possibilities.

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