Technology giant Microsoft have announced they would like to use DNA for data storage much like a PC hard drive.

Microsoft have formed a partnership with the San Francisco-based Twist Bioscience, which will provide the long oligonucleotides used for synthetic DNA storage.

As part of the deal, Microsoft will purchase 10 million strands of such DNA, in what augurs to be the first phase of their DNA storage project. With its HealthVault platform, Microsoft has reason to think they will require an enormous amount of storage space — medical data is one of largest and fastest growing areas in data storage.

Here are a few facts about DNA which may help shed light on its usefulness as a storage medium. Consider the error rate of DNA polyermerase, the enzyme responsible for copying strands of DNA in the replisome.

For every 10 billion basepairs copied, it makes an average of a single mistake — and that in the very “noisy” conditions that is a human body, exposed to a myriad of biological threats.

Not only is DNA remarkably effective at retrieving and copying data, it’s extremely efficient in scale. It’s estimated that a diploid cell in the human contains about 1.5 gigabytes of information, which it can store and retrieve with frightening accuracy. At 1.5GB per cell, the cells in your hand could provide a storage medium bigger than the largest mechanical hard drive in existence.

Our electronic storage systems require special maintenance and also a large amount of space but DNA, after being proven readable after thousands of years. The cost of storing data won’t be a lot as well since when in 2003 the scientists sequenced the human genome for $ 1 billion, today DNA can be read for only over $1000 while the genetic instructions can be written through synthetic biology tools.

The Microsoft and Twist Bioscience aims to develop practical and scalable methods of achieving this task. It is practical to use DNA for data storage because as long as there is life on earth DNA reading technology will be available. This means that the recoverability of stored digital data will be possible.

As DNA testing become available to more and more people at a lower price is makes sense that big business try’s to adapt new technologies to problems we face in the real world now.

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