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The DNA revolution for storing our data is underway

A world first has been achieved in France: the deposit of DNA-encoded digital archives in the Archives nationales.

On November 23th, French researchers encoded the 1789 Declaration of Human Rights and the Declaration of the Rights of Women and the Citizen written by Olympe de Gouges in 1791 onto DNA molecules. This futuristic technology is supposed to address the problems of massive data storage. One hundred billion copies of these two historical texts have been stored in DNA form in two capsule-sized metal containers.

The process is based on the DNA Drive technology, developed and patented in 2019 by Stéphane Lemaire (CNRS, Centre national de la recherche scientifique) and Pierre Crozet (Sorbonne University). Both co-founded in 2021 with Erfane Arwani (co-founder of Nanocloud, SharePlace and Osaka) the company Biomemory to commercialise this technology.

The process is simple: the binary numerical data (0 or 1) is transformed into quaternary data (the four nucleotides of DNA: A,T,C G where A=C=0 and T=G=1 for a 1 bit/base code), explains the media CNRS Le Journal. The data is converted using an algorithm to generate DNA sequences in DNA Drive format. “The information can be read with nomadic DNA sequencers that are now the size of a USB stick”, said Stéphane Lemaire in CNRS Le Journal.

An ecological issue

Research into DNA data storage stems from the realisation that storage capacity will soon be unable to keep up with demand.

"In 2025, the datasphere will represent 175 zettabytes (Zb) (one zettabyte = 1 billion terabytes), 60% of which will be archives. The problem with data centres is that they are fragile, as the life of the media is 5 to 7 years; they take up space; they are energy intensive, consuming 2% of the world's electricity production each year, and their energy requirements are proportional to the amount of data stored. Moreover, since 2010, demand for storage capacity has exceeded supply," stated Stéphane Lemaire.

DNA, by comparison, promises durable, cost-effective, room temperature storage. A human being, for example, stores 2.7 Zb in his DNA. We can store 0.45 Zb in one gram of DNA. The entire world's data could thus be stored in 100 g of DNA, the researchers claim.

Of course, the fact that this storage method is single-use somewhat limits its potential applications (and explains the need to create redundant files in the capsules), explains the media L’Usine digitale.