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Structure of a DNA molecule.

Researchers at the University of Washington are collaborating with Microsoft to encode, store, and retrieve digital text and images using DNA molecules.


University of Washington (UW) professor Luis Ceze is collaborating with Microsoft and other UW researchers to encode, store, and retrieve digital text and images using DNA molecules.

The team tested this process by creating algorithms to match the digital data in DNA, ordering fabricated DNA molecules, and then sequencing and decoding the information for comparison to the original file.

"There's a maximum length of a molecule you can make, and it's about 200 [to] 300 nucleotides, which is big by DNA standards, but small by computer science standards," says UW postdoctoral researcher James Bornholt. "One of the things we had to do was break data down into smaller chunks and put each one in a separate molecule and have a pool of molecules, that combined, contain a file."

To address the challenge of random access in information storage/retrieval, the researchers employed polymerase chain reaction methods in which DNA fragments are placed in a liquid medium with unique primers that identify regions of interest. For every DNA-encoded digital file, they positioned identifying sequences on each end to differentiate them from the rest of the data.

Ceze believes DNA could be used to archive large datasets partly because it defies obsolescence and its storage capacity is extremely dense.

From The Daily of the University of Washington
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