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Would Having a DNA Hard Drive Solve My Storage Problems?

By August 17, 2018Biotechnology

by

Adil Agha Khan

Johns Hopkins Alumnus’14

M.Sc. Candidate Biotechnology JHU ’19

I am a creative person, and I like to do it all. Being a natural scientist, I like to design in many ways whether if its graphic design, web design, video editing, or recording audio tracks. However, to harness my creative ventures, it often comes with its challenges and complexities. For instance, I have a 128 gb MacBook pro, and its memory has been eaten up not once but multiple times by my creative endeavors. As a quick solution I purchased an external hard drive so that I could back up .png, and MP4 files from my laptop for storage. But what if I had a solution which would allow me to store practically unimaginable amounts of data?  

Would having a DNA hard drive solve my storage problems? According to Dr. Peck, the Chief Technology officer at Twist Bioscience (2017), he  explains that “just a tiny amount of DNA is capable of holding a zettabyte of data” (p.1). Seeker (2017) points out that for reference’s sake “the entirety of all the web traffic in the world in 2016 equates to 1.1 zettabytes of data. A zettabyte is 1 times 10^12 gigabytes” (YouTube). Service (2017) claims that we could store the entirety of data belonging to humanity in one room using DNA as a hard drive (p.1). 

World Economic Future Computing (2015) YouTube video highlights Dr. Nick Goldman reporting that, “sequenceable” DNA has been read from ancient horses dating back to 700,000 years. He mentions Information Technology to DNA may sound like a stretch, but the stretch is accomplished by code. Goldman explains that the similarities are that computers and computer programs run on code and so does DNA. DNA is the oldest and most efficient form of data storage in existence.

On a personal note, with a single gram of DNA I could potentially have the data-storage capacity of 1.7 billion high-end MacBook. To convert computer files to DNA the workflow is as follows: start with any given computer language (i.e. HTML, CSS, JavaScript, Python, etc.), convert it to binary fundamental computer code (Technopedia, 2018) to DNA’s four-letter code. To read DNA “files” we simply do the opposite: the DNA is read and converted to binary and then to the computer language of interest. An algorithm is employed to facilitate the ease of the code conversion processes. These processes of storing or reading DNA files are accomplished by a device called a DNA sequencer.

World Economic Future Computing (2015) YouTube video highlights Dr. Nick Goldman also explaining reporting binary is a language which consists of only two types of coding units, namely 0s and 1s, DNA code is ternary—which means that it consists of 4 coding units.  Reflecting on high school biology classes where we learned about DNA’s four nitrogenous bases—namely adenine and guanine (the purines), and cytosine and thymine (pyrimidines). The designations of A, G, C and T (the single letter codes of the four nitrogenous bases) are the four coding units that scientists use to “write” DNA storage files of videos, audio, images, and so on. The future is now here.  Before long a computer with a DNA hard drive already built in may truly give one pause to reflect with wonder.

References:

1) Seeker. (March 15, 2017). We Could Back Up the Entire Internet on A Gram of DNA https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wjYLKhaeKL0

2) Service, R. (March 2, 2017), DNA could store all the world’s data in one room. Science Magazine. http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2017/03/dna-could-store-all-worlds-data-one-room

3) Technopedia. (2018). Binary Code. https://www.techopedia.com/definition/17052/binary-code

4) Twist Bioscience. (September 29, 2017). University of Washington Preserve Archive-Quality Audio Recordings for Memory of the World. https://twistbioscience.com/company/press/dna-data-storage-montreux-jazz

5) World Economic Future Computing. (March 10, 2015). DNA Hard Drives | Nick Goldman. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tBvd7OSDGgQ&t=659s

6) Photo courtesy: Sergey Volkov/iStockphoto

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