Flash memory is nice, but there’s a far superior place to store computer files.
It’s a thousand times more dense than flash, it requires no energy to maintain, and it’s unusually stable.
Humans have piled up about 10 trillion gigabytes of computer files so far, and every day we add about 2.5 million worth of photos, tweets, business reports, and other items.
Much of the information is archived in data centers, many of which have grown to the size of several football fields and can cost more than $1 billion to build and maintain.
By contrast, theoretically we could store all of that archived data in a coffee mug full of DNA.
The problem isn’t figuring out how to store the files that way; for years, scientists have been constructing photos, text files, and other computer-generated data as strands of synthesized DNA.
The problem is finding and retrieving the right file from that theoretical coffee mug.
In the past, that’s been done through something called a polymerase chain reaction, which finds the DNA sequence you’re looking for but often damages DNA strands nearby.
Scientists at Harvard and MIT have found a better way: they’ve enclosed DNA files in silica nanoparticles, each labeled with a short DNA sequence as a bar-code ID tag.
The full range of possible DNA sequences allows 1020 unique labels to be created, enough to give even government agencies years of running room.
When a file needs to be retrieved, researchers can search using fluorescent chemical tags that will bind to labels with certain DNA sequences, flagging possible nanoparticles and allowing further sorting to find a single specific file.
The concept’s developers think that the cost of their new procedure will be comparable to that of magnetic tape, the common medium for archival storage now, within 20 years.
TRENDPOST: The need for smaller and smaller computer storage space grows along with the world’s computer usage.
Barring the discovery of a breakthrough technology, DNA is likely to be in common use as file storage by the middle of this century.