Data Storage, DNA and Shakespeare

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Did anyone hear the story on NPR on storing some of Shakespeare’s sonnets in DNA?

The two researchers are not the first to develop an encoding scheme and storing things in DNA. The researchers Ewan Birney and Nick Goldman even addressed a concern that I had with DNA, which is mutation, which we call bit rot or silent data corruption.

So is it time to develop and agree upon an encoding scheme for data, including an agreed upon ECC encoding? The cost of this DNA storage was extremely high at $12,400 per MB. So the cost is going to have to come way down before anyone gets spun up doing this.

It is not clear from the article if the cost includes the ECC or just the raw data, but a terabyte of storage would cost $12,400,000,000. Even if the price comes down at 50% per year we are still talking the next decade before this becomes affordable. The other issues that need to be considered are:

1. What is the long term shelf life? Do we understand the shelf life conditions? There needs to be reliability testing to determine the amount of ECC that will be needed.

2. The current read and write time is abysmal. Weeks to write and hours to days to read. Nanotechnology must be developed for DNA storage to be successful.

3. There needs to be a standards body. Will it be an ANSI IT group or will it be a genetics group?

A few years ago at a conference, I thought the idea of DNA storage was absurd. I said to someone you have red hair and blue eyes, and genes mutate, which is why we do not look alike. The idea of having ECC built into DNA storage had not crossed my mind. I think it is time to start thinking about some long-term reliability studies to see if this could be part of the storage hierarchy.

Henry Newman
Henry Newman
Henry Newman has been a contributor to TechnologyAdvice websites for more than 20 years. His career in high-performance computing, storage and security dates to the early 1980s, when Cray was the name of a supercomputing company rather than an entry in Urban Dictionary. After nearly four decades of architecting IT systems, he recently retired as CTO of a storage company’s Federal group, but he rather quickly lost a bet that he wouldn't be able to stay retired by taking a consulting gig in his first month of retirement.

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