A Smear of DNA Can Hold 10,000 Gigabytes of Data
Facing a storage crisis, the U.S. is investing $48 million to turn DNA into living hard drives
Around the world, warehouses the size of several football fields store millions of hard drives’ worth of data. Every time we send an email, search Google, upload photos to Facebook, or stream a movie on Netflix — which is to say, all the time — those hard drives are put to work.
Big tech is building more of these sprawling data centers to keep up with the massive growth in data needs. But we are generating so much digital data that our current storage systems won’t be able to keep up for long. Already, large-scale U.S. data centers cost hundreds of millions of dollars to maintain and account for nearly 2% of the country’s electricity consumption, and those numbers are only expected to grow.
“There’s a problem coming where we’re going to have more data than we can store,” says Nicholas Guise, a senior research scientist at the Georgia Tech Research Institute who works on cybersecurity. To solve it, he says, we’ll need to figure out how to store more data in less space.
The U.S. government, which also has a huge data storage problem, has just invested $48 million into one possible solution: storing data in DNA.
“There’s a problem coming where we’re going to have more data than we can store.”
For the past few years, researchers have been tinkering with encoding songs, images, and other files in DNA. But it’s still expensive and time-consuming. Now a new program launched by the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA), a research agency within the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, aims to change that. Its goal is to shrink a warehouse-sized data center into an affordable tabletop device that can store one exabyte of data — which is equal to a million terabyte-sized hard drives.
“The scale and complexity of the world’s ‘big data’ problems are increasing rapidly, and we are entering an era when the solutions will require storage and random access from an exabyte or more of data,” IARPA program manager David Markowitz tells OneZero. “Faced with exponential…