Microsoft wrote an OK Go music video to DNA

UW Associate Professor Luis Henrique Ceze in blue and research scientist Lee Organick prepare DNA containing digital data for sequencing which allows them to “read” and retrieve the original files

The team stored digitalized version of art (including an HD video by OK Go!), more than 100 translations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the top 100 books from Project Guttenberg, and the nonprofit Crop Trust’s seed database on DNA strands.

As demand grows for more data storage, Microsoft and University of Washington researchers have broken ground in using DNA – the carrier of genetic material in living things – to save information.

Think of the amount of data in a big data center compressed into a few sugar cubes. “Or all the publicly accessible data on the Internet slipped into a shoebox”.

Previous research by UW and Microsoft has estimated that the “raw” storage limit of DNA is an exabyte per cubic millimeter. The team has developed a way of storing data on DNA, which promises to dramatically reduce the storage size needed to save our files, images, and more. Ultimately, the technology needs to be as cheap or cheaper than the current standard of storing data on tape, and that’s a high bar to vault, according to Reinhard Heckel, DNA storage researcher at University of California, Berkeley.

Yet, price remains a large barrier, and the team has a long way before this can be a viable archival tool, says Luis Henrique Ceze, the principal researcher from the University of Washington on the project. “This is one important example of the potential of borrowing from nature to build better computer systems”. Having a DNA synthesizer and sequencer in situ would allow companies looking to archive their data for long-term storage to use DNA for holding onto petabytes of data at a time with very little physical storage space required. Besides being compact, it is also extremely durable, capable of lasting for a very long time if kept in good conditions.

DNA might just be the answer.

Researchers have improved on their original methods substantially in the past year, announcing they have been able to store far more than the original four images in a DNA sequence. “It’s essentially a test tube and you can barely see what’s in it”. It’s a bit of a process to undertake, as researchers have to first translate the binary code of data they wish to write to DNA into the very molecules that form DNA.

The team then uses a technique normally employed by molecular biologists known as polymerase chain reaction to make multiple copies of the DNA strands they want to read.