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Researchers can store data in DNA; the hard part is retrieving it

Lucas Mearian | Aug. 20, 2015
The cost of DNA storage today precludes it from being used by consumers.

Reading DNA is fairly straightforward, but writing it has been a major hurdle. There are two challenges: First, using current methods, it is only possible to manufacture DNA in short strings. Secondly, both writing and reading DNA are prone to errors, particularly when the same DNA letter is repeated.

Now that ETH Zürich researchers have demonstrated how to synthetically preserve DNA for long periods of time, they're now trying to tackle a filing system that will be able to avoid read/write errors.

"In DNA storage, you have a drop of liquid containing floating molecules encoded with information," Grass said. "Right now, we can read everything that's in that drop. But I can't point to a specific place within the drop and read only one file."

So, Grass's research team is currently developing ways to label specific pieces of information on DNA strands to make them searchable.

Like many technologies in their early years, Grass said DNA storage currently comes with a hefty price tag.

Encoding and saving a few megabytes of data costs thousands of dollars, Grass said. So consumers won't have the option of buying DNA-based storage devices anytime soon.


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