Microsoft agreed to purchase 10 million long oligonucleotides, which it will use to encode digital data, a DNA research company announced this week. Oligonucleotides are commonly used in scientific research, since they can be synthesized in a lab and used for DNA sequencing. Like all DNA molecules, they are also extremely dense, which means they could theoretically store immense amounts of data.
With huge amounts of data being produced and captured every day, the volume and rate of production is fast outstripping methods of storage. The bulk of data is stored on media with finite shelf life, with servers and hard drives needing to be replaced periodically. This means data has to be transferred, which increases the risk of corruption and data loss.
It’s also important for Microsoft, which operates one of the biggest public cloud platforms. Finding more efficient ways to store data could reduce its costs, and DNA-based storage has the potential to last longer than existing media.
“Today, the vast majority of digital data is stored on media that has a finite shelf life and periodically needs to be re-encoded. DNA is a promising storage media, as it has a known shelf life of several thousand years, offers a permanent storage format and can be read for continuously decreasing costs,” said Twist CEO Emily Leproust in a statement.
It remains to be seen what the results of the collaboration will be, but it’s a further step towards making DNA-based computers a practical reality.