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Microsoft has found a way to store 200MB of data in synthetic DNA

Microsoft and the University of Washington have created synthetic DNA that is able to store 200MB of data. The DNA could hold, among other things, an HD version of a music video from OK Go!

In a blog post (opens in new tab), Microsoft stated:

The impressive part is not just how much data they were able to encode onto synthetic DNA and then decode. It's also the space they were able to store it in. Once encoded, the data occupied a spot in a test tube "much smaller than the tip of a pencil," said Douglas Carmean, the partner architect at Microsoft overseeing the project.

Karin Strauss, the head Microsoft researcher on the project, reveals just how DNA is used for this purpose:

First the data is translated from 1s and 0s into the "letters" of the four nucleotide bases of a DNA strand — (A)denine, (C)ytosine, (G)uanine and (T)hymine. Then they have vendor Twist Bioscience "translate those letters, which are still in electronic form, into the molecules themselves, and send them back," Strauss said. "It's essentially a test tube and you can barely see what's in it. It looks like a little bit of salt was dried in the bottom."Reading the data uses a biotech tweak to random access memory (RAM), another concept borrowed from computer science. The team uses polymerase chain reaction (PCR), a technique that molecular biologists use routinely to manipulate DNA, to multiply or "amplify" the strands it wants to recover. Once they've sharply increased the concentration of the desired snippets, they take a sample, sequence or decode the DNA and then run error correction computations.

Microsoft believes using DNA as a way to store data could be very useful in the future, because it's both small and durable; it could allow for data to be stored for thousands of years.

61 Comments
  • Wow impressive stuff.
  • "Pass the salt please"
    Me: That's not salt ;)
    "What is it?"
    Me: My porn archive ;)
  • WoW man what an imagination
  • In future, instead of MicroSD we would be inserting our fingers to upload or download things!!!
  • I will be using my middle finger if I ever use an apple phone that supports this xD
  • For me the middle finger is used to stimulate my prostate. I would prefer the thumb for dna.
  • TMI dude
  • TMI.
  • He's just thinking ahead guys, why do you have to censor his logic?
  • No one is censoring anything, just letting them know to much information was shared ;)
  • I was joking....
  • Crazy you are ;D LOL!
  • It is for archival purpose! It is practically impossible for a finger to transfer data as 1)DNA IS NOT THE SAME AS CELL 2) PCR REACTION IS IMPOSSIBLE TO OCCUR ON A PHONE AND THAT TOO IN MERE SECONDS
  • Way to be a joykill man. They were playing around.
  • No but this could lead to bio-Nano technology so don't think of now tech think of future tech and what it could lead to.
  • Wow... Awesome!! It's like merging two different discipline into one. Nice work Microsoft.
  • Wasn't there a chess computer that was made from dna a few years back? Windows Gattaca here we come!
  • Microsoft Yeah
  • When they will find a way to do something about the failing Windows mobile platform, let me know.
  • They encode the platform into DNA which will then be put into the brains of trolls like you
  • Windows on every device. Lol
  • Disregard. This comment was posted by mistake due to a bug in the Windows Central app.
  • What they don't point out is the speed -- PCR is the first step and takes minutes at best (possibly hours), then after it has been amplified (that's all the PCR does), it still needs to be sequenced, which is a separate process, and not something currently availalble in a small portable unit. Oh, and "writing" the data is even slower. The idea here really is long-term durable storage, like a critical archive, that is not likely to be accessed for years, not something to use for data you want to actually use. Storage (DNA) is small and durable, but the equipment to access it and speed, at least today, are still unusably slow and huge.
  • Exactly my thought. Thanks for clarification
  • Exactly what I said above! People are getting it confused!
  • And you're taking the comments too seriously.
  • Wow, when this is possible to encode into organisms, do you think there's data stored into our own dna as well? Just curious
  • You are precisely on my thoughts. I am wondering how long until they realize that there is data everywhere that dna exists. The answer to everything is out there but must be read.
  • That is what dna is. Information :). How did it get there? How did it form? The fact information exists in such quantity makes a good case for a Creator. DNA and information and its storage is fascinating all around :). 
  • In the case of viruses, there's an incredible compression scheme too. So every 3 rungs of the DNA ladder (e.g., ATC, CTG, TAA, etc.) is called a codon and codes for a particular amino acid. These string together to form proteins, enzymes, etc. But if you have a sequence ATTGCCGTACAATGCTACC... where do you start? Well in cellular organisms, there's generally a start sequence by a repeated string of a single nucleotide. But viruses, unlike cellular organisms, are hyper compact. They're really the undead of the organic world, with no life capability of their own, they can only grow and replicate by taking over the inner machinery of other cells they invade. Anyway, because they are so tiny and compact, and so unbelievably efficient, they can can have 2 or 3 "reading frames". In the sequence above, it could be ATT GCC GTA CAA for one, TTG CCG TAC AAT for another (same sequence, just starting one base later), and even a third TGC CTC ACA ATG... In any other organism, those second and third reading frames produce junk. In viruses, sometimes they're all used. In computer science, I'm not aware of any compression scheme that tries to use the same bits to represent more than one value (including the DNA storage referenced in this article). Nature's amazing.
  • or it could be aliens! :)
  • *Facepalm* That'd be a fairly good description of what DNA is.
  • Animus time!
  • So does this mean I can get back my 15GB One Drive?
  • hahaha.
  • Hahaha
  • Savage
  • Nah you'll get 15tb of Owndrive :)
  • So in the future, a virus could actually be...a virus?!
  • Nope......for that a virus need to be cybernetic! Not yet possible plus NVR gonna happen with this level of bio tech........ But it is my novel's main antagonist which is currently in progress LOL
  • Wow awesome.  I can't wait for Apple to "invent" this in a few years once Microsoft gets it perfected and then abandons it.
  • Then Apple says "We invented this technology....
    Introducing ' iDNA ' the best way to store data...."
    LOL
  • First neither APPLE NOR GOOGLE NOR MICROSOFT CAN MAKE IT POSSIBLE! Understand the fact between synthetic and real DNA. Your DNA is already full with data, to put more data in your DNA through your lovely future iDNA, is only possible until you delete some for your data from your DNA.....HOW CAN U NOT UNDERSTAND A BASIC STUFF LIKE THIS! GOSH....EVEN DECRYPTING IT WILL TAKE HOURS...AND THE SYSTEM WILL BE SO BULKY YOUR DREAM IPHONE WILL BE THE THICKEST MOBILE EVER BUILT!!!!! Seriously think
  • ... I think you need to take a nap.
  • You're like a NASA scientist at a star trek convention stop being so literal
  • "We are proud to introduce this revolutionary technology..."
  • "For years Apple has been the industry leader in memory storage technology, we are proud to introduce this revolutionary new technology called iCell." Just a little poke at what they said about open source software last year.
  • Holy ****!!!
  • How big of a DNA blob does it have to be before it comes to life and kills us all? Because that would be the hard size limitation I think.
  • Around the same size as your average Rubik's Cube. Keep an eye out man, could happen any moment!
  • 1 step closer to the T1000 :P
  • Not so funny fun fact question: Would it be possible to use this technique for storing information/programs into an MK Ultra persons body? Let's hope MSFT has us covered with a good protection preventing such grossness!
  • Introducing Endlyfe protection by Microsoft the software the gets rid of all of those pesky programs that got uploaded into your body.
  • Not mine, hopefully
  • Awesome. Now, if they could only figure out placeholders. I kid... I kid... Either way, cool stuff. Posted via the Windows Central App for Android
  • Skynet? Lol
  • As a molecular biologist, I am very delighted with this advancement although this has been in the reckoning for quite some time now.
  • What the hell is OK GO!?
  • The article mentions its a music video of some sort. I haven't heard of it either.
  • It's a music band, not a BIG DEAL! Lol
  • They're building Cortana