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Microsoft’s latest breakthrough could develop DNA-based data centres

Digital DNA

As more and more data is being created every second, engineers over at Microsoft are looking for ways to maximize the amount of information that can be stored per square foot, in order to avoid filling up planet Earth with data centers. There have been various approaches to this issue, nevertheless, the most promising amongst those approaches is storing data in DNA, which can provide a storage medium that is, in order of magnitude, smaller than today’s mainstream storage options.

To develop this theory, Microsoft researchers have teamed up with the University of Washington for a groundbreaking proof-of-concept test. In a new demo, researchers from both entities have successfully encoded the word “hello” into fragments of fabricated DNA–and then turned it back into digital data using a fully automated system.

“This is showing that end-to-end automation is possible for DNA data storage,” Luis Ceze, a professor in the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Washington, told Digital Trends. “Without automation, it would never be viable.”

The advantage of DNA coding is not just the ability to store higher data count, compared to traditional storage methods. It also ensures longer-term storage solution, as evidence from the fact that DNA can be traced back to tens of thousands of years ago from artifacts like mammoth tusks and bones from early humans. It could be applied in DNA-based data centers. However, while the theory remains the same, it is noteworthy that the current demonstration was carried out using synthetic DNA created in a laboratory, as opposed to DNA found in human beings and other living creatures.

As exciting as this development is, there is still a long time to go before a full-fledged version of this is established.

“We’re currently at the research stage, and this was an engineering exercise to understand the challenges related to building hybrid molecular-electronic systems,” Karin Strauss, principal researcher at Microsoft, told us. “It’s still early days; we’re learning so much and excited to see what could be possible. We take an end-to-end system approach to how we look at the technology, and we have a very strong team working on it. We feel lucky that our respective institutions are willing to invest in innovation.”

A paper describing the work was also published in the journal Nature Scientific Reports.

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