Public Release: 

As reliable as your hard drive? Maximizing DNA storage

American Association for the Advancement of Science

Researchers seeking to help humanity with its data storage problem have created a method to store vast quantities of digital information in small amounts of DNA; critically, their technique approaches the theoretical maximum for DNA storage, storing 60% more data than previous efforts. Humans are currently producing data at exponential rates, creating a demand for better storage devices. DNA is an excellent medium for data storage because of its high durability and information density. As well, DNA is naturally equipped with machinery to replicate information it holds. However, previous attempts to store information in DNA have not reached the theoretical threshold and some contained imperfections in information retrieval. One key reason information retrieval can go awry is because DNA synthesis, as well as some techniques employed during DNA storage attempts, can result in uneven representation of oligonucleotides. Here, Yaniv Erlich and Dina Zielinski developed a method called DNA Fountain, which helps adjust for these discrepancies in oligonucleotides. It relies on a coding technique whereby information is randomly packaged and then reassembled in order, similar to how the internet works. In the case of DNA Fountain, more oligonucleotides are encoded to convey the "message" than required, and the system prioritizes high-quality oligonucleotides over damaged ones in order to minimize error. Therefore, all information stored can still be conveyed if some oligonucleotides are lost or damaged. The authors used DNA Fountain to encode a single compressed file of 2,146,816 bytes, which included a complete graphical operating system, a movie and other files, into DNA. They successfully retrieved the entire collection of information, which was stored at a density just 14% shy of the theoretical limit. Errors in such systems are likely to increase as oligonucleotides are replicated, but here, DNA Fountain was still able to fully recover the file after oligonucleotides had been subjected to multiple rounds of replication, the authors report.

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