Pilot for commercial DNA data storage to commence in 2019

For some time now, those operating within the technology sector – from data recovery service providers to developers to IT technicians – have known that mankind is producing data at a rate that is unsustainable. Many experts have even suggested that the demand for storage will be outstripping supply in less than a decade!

In response, both public and private organisations from manufacturers to universities have been developing more and more efficient means of storing data for the past several years. Problem is, in the vast majority of instances, their efforts have yielded only small improvements in storage density (such as the helium-filled HDD). Others, which boasted ground-breaking and truly colossal densities, were simply too complicated, expensive and outlandish to be used in the real world – until now.

DNA is capable of storing 5.5 petabytes (5,500 terabytes) of data in a cubic millilitre of physical space but the costs of synthesising the relevant materials ran into tens of thousands of pounds and the process of encoding the data was also prohibitively slow. Furthermore, retrieving the data was an equally expensive and time-consuming process. Now, a partnership between two companies, Cambridge Consultants and CATALOG Technologies, has yielded a process that encodes a terabyte of data in just 24 hours which, whilst not quick enough to see this new storage medium become society’s de facto means of storing data, is still a significant improvement on what we’ve seen previously. More importantly, a spokesperson has stated that the companies involved view this as a stepping stone towards further improvements.

Press releases have, rather than relying on highly-technical explanations, used the printing press as a metaphor claiming that previous means of encoding data for DNA storage were akin to copying a book by hand. This new method, it has been claimed, is akin to recreating a book by using a printing press with typefaces that can be rearranged as needed. Essentially, rather than encoding each piece of data from scratch, a series of short premade DNA strands can be expanded as required, making the encoding process quicker and cheaper. Most important of all, though, is that the device capable of encoding data at this rate will be trialled for commercial clients in 2019.

There are, of course, a number of other problems to overcome such as the cost of synthesising DNA and the fact that retrieving it is currently a lengthy process, but this is a significant step in terms of DNA digital data storage becoming the world’s preferred form of cold storage.