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DNA Molecule Inspires New Technology: Microsoft, UW Create Massive Data Storage

Update Date: Apr 14, 2016 04:35 AM EDT

Researchers have found a new way that may reduce the space required for storing data. They got the idea from a DNA molecule.

Technology companies need a huge data center where they can store all their files. However, a group of researchers from the University of Washington (UW) and Microsoft have come up with a new way where they can store huge data without needing tons of space for their data centers.

With the help of DNA molecules, the team was able to create a complete system that can encode, store and retrieve digital data. This compact setup can also store information millions of times compared to current storing technology, PerfScience reported.

The research was presented in April at the ACM International Conference on Architectural Support for Programming Languages and Operating Systems by a team of electrical engineers and computer scientists.

The paper said that the experiment was able encoded digital file using four picture files into the nucleotide sequences of synthetic DNA snippets. They were able to reverse that process as well by retrieving the right sequence from a bigger DNA pool and rebuilt the images without losing a single byte of information.

"A large part of building better computers is about finding better materials to build computers with," says Luis Ceze, an associate professor in the Computer Science Department at the University of Washington. "So, silicon happens to be a fantastic material, but it's reaching a point where it's unclear that we can continue pushing forward with silicon. So I find it fascinating that biology has evolved many molecules that are useful for building better computers in the future."

Researchers said that Facebook's data storage that occupies an entire warehouse and holds one Exabyte (1 billion gigabytes) can be fitted in a living room using their new technology inspired by DNA. By converting all the information from the 1s and 0s on a computer chip into the DNA's four letters, scientists were able to create strands of DNA that encode anything from a simple audio file to a huge library, Discover Magazine reported.

The researchers created an index the connects the four nucleotides (A,T,C, and G) that build up the DNA to a series of 1's and 0's that are currently being used on computers. Each short strands of DNA hold a part of a file's code. These short strands of DNA are created using a DNA synthesizer.

A DNA sequencer can store and retrieve information that reads combinations of nucleotides after all the information has been converted to DNA.

"If we compare flash to DNA in terms of density, or the number of bits in a certain volume, DNA will be at least a billion times denser. You can put an exabyte in a cubic inch, which would be a few sugar cubes," says Ceze.

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