Over the past few decades, it has become apparent that Moore’s Law has started to come apart. The 1965 observation, named after Gordon E. Moore, stated that the number of components on a chip seemed to double every year, but we are reaching the limit of silicon’s storage capabilities.
To keep pushing the boundaries of computing technology, we’ll need to rethink the basic components of computers themselves. And the field of DNA storage could offer a solution to a problem growing ever more apparent in our digital world: Where do we store billions of gigabytes of data that make up the Internet?
“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.”
Current archival facilities, such as the data storage center Facebook recently built in Oregon, occupy entire warehouses and can store about an exabyte — 1 billion gigabytes of data — at a maximum. That’s just a fraction of the entire internet, which is forecast to reach 16 zettabytes, or 16,000 exabytes, by 2017.
By encoding information using DNA, the blueprint for life on Earth, researchers say that they could take all of that information and fit it in your living room. By taking bits of information and translating them from the 1s and 0s on a computer chip into the four letters of DNA, scientists can create strands of DNA that encode for anything you like, from a Taylor Swift song to the Library of Congress.
To accomplish this, researchers build an index that links the four nucleotides that make up DNA (A,T,C and G) to the strings of 1s and 0s we already use on our computers. A DNA synthesizer creates short strands of DNA that each hold a part of a file’s code. Once all of the information has been converted to DNA, the information can be stored and retrieved by a DNA sequencer that reads combinations of nucleotides.
Ceze is part of a team of researchers at the University of Washington that has developed a new method of encoding and reading information stored in synthetic DNA.;