DNA is an ideal data storage material. It can be stable for millennia and readable when damaged. Unlike floppy disks, the equipment for reading and writing DNA data—polymerases and nucleotides—won’t be obsolete anytime soon.
The main advantage of this system, over earlier DNA storage mechanisms, is that it is entirely in vitro, avoiding time-consuming cloning in bacteria. However, the new system is not rewritable or searchable. Changing the information requires re-synthesis and seeking requires sequencing. So, don’t expect your library in a microtiter plate soon. The project was mainly to show how DNA could be used for high-density, long-lived information archiving, said Kosuri, calling the study “a good starting point for thinking about alternative storage mechanisms.”
As we accumulate digital information, explained Kosuri, we need better archiving technologies. Three-dimensional polymers such as DNA store information much more densely than formats that encode data on a surface. A DNA-based information storage system can be 10 orders of magnitude more dense (measured as log10 bits per mm3) than a CD. Kosuri estimates that a petabyte of information (1000 terabytes) can be stored in less than 1.5 milligrams of DNA.
Besides advancing information storage, the study was groundbreaking because the senior investigator did the bench work. “It was a bit of a role reversal for us, but [Church] wanted to get back in the lab, so he did most of the work,” said Kosuri. Church said doing the PCR and sequencing preparation was "like riding a bicycle. It all came back."
1. Church G.M., Y. Gao, and S. Kosuri. 2012. Next-Generation Digital Information Storage in DNA. Science [citation here: http://www.sciencemag.org/content/early/recent / 16 August 2012 / Page 1/ 10.1126/science.1226355 ]