DNA Storage: The Better Memory Stick


Imagine attending a trade show and instead of passing out a business card or flash drive, you scrape off a couple flakes of skin for your potential client. Or perhaps a single strand of hair. Within that dander could be everything a person needs to know about your business.

Absolute crazy talk, right? Sci-fi stuff at best. Maybe. Maybe not.

Did DNA Storage Kill the USB Star?

Slow your roll: we’re not there yet. But we’re getting close. While the above situation sounds like a scene in Gattaca, it’s seems that a team of computer scientists at the University of Washington has made massive strides in data storage by coding DNA.

Incredibly, the team managed to program images onto a tiny strand of material that floats in the bottle of a test tube barely bigger than a pencil. Even better? They got it back. The four images were retrieved from the strand without a single missing byte of data.

The images represent only a fraction of what the molecule could store. A whopping 10,000GB of data (about 600 smartphones worth) could fit on that little pink droplet. Turns out data storage technology is older than we thought!

Scientists have been programming DNA for years, but usually with other biological information useful to the organism. But programming digital data onto a “living” memory stick is bold new territory. Will it replace the USB drive anytime soon? No. But perhaps in our lifetime. Will the technology be used as a means of storing personal information, such as contact info and software? Or is this the makings of a DNA-based supercomputer. Perhaps the Transformers franchise isn’t so far off from the truth!

Until then you’ll have to stick to the USB drive as your #1 marketing tool. While they might not hold as much data as your genetic makeup, they do hold enough to create a digital business card. And they have a much easier interface with your computer.

Image: Tara Brown Photography | University of Washington