DNA-based Computing - DNA digital data storage cost forecast

“In April 2016, researchers published a method to encode, save, extract, and decrypt data dynamically into DNA”

University of Washington (0).

DNA is compact, universal and durable, lasting centuries, if not millennia. It makes a perfect candidate to store information. Digital data storage in DNA refers to any scheme for storing digital data and DNA base sequences (1)(2). The nucleotide bases that form DNA can be converted into binary code. “A” (adenine) and “C” (cytosine) represent 0, and “G” (guanine) and “T” (thymine) represent 1 (3).

1 gram (0.035 oz.) of DNA represent close to 1 billion terabytes (1 zettabyte) (4). To put it into perspective, that it is equivalent to the global internet IP traffic in one year (5).

If one human genome weights about 1 picogram (pg), it could store 1 Gb. It is actually around 750 Mb (6). For the sake of a Tweet, let´s say:

The human genome could store up to one gigabyte of data.

You may not think it is too much, but the human genome is more or less a very long instruction manual. Let´s simplified the process in three steps:

Reading DNA

Once the information is stored (See below), it can be retrieved using DNA Sequencing (Read DNA Sequencing, Editing and Writing Chapter) and a decoding algorithm. This technology is already fast and affordable.

Storing DNA

The Technology for writing DNA is called DNA synthesizing (For Beginners… Read DNA Sequencing, Editing and Writing Chapter). The current rate of converting or encoding data into DNA was 400 bytes per second. To make it commercial, it’ll need to reach, at least, 1 MB per second.

There is another alternative, which it is to use existing bacteria and program information inside them using CRISPR-Cas9. Researchers have been able to store and retrieve a pixelated black and white movie from bacteria (7), but scalability is on its way (8).

Today digital data storage it is incredibly cheap, at around 5 cents per Gb (9). DNA digital storage is unaffordable. First Microsoft DNA-powered 200 Mb “floppy disk” cost 2 Billion USD (10), or 10 billion per Gb. Recently, Researchers in the UK estimated that it would cost more than 12 mill USD per GB to encode DNA data, but only around 0.2 mill USD per GB to read that data back (11).

Let´s look at my predictions for 2030. For more background information, Read DNA Sequencing, Editing and Writing Chapter.

In 2014, the price of DNA synthesis and sequencing was around 200 USD (12). But that is not a reliable source. Microsoft’s experiment used 13,448,372 individual pieces of DNA, which on the open market would cost $800,000. Encoding just 1 gigabyte of data costs another $125,000 (13). 1 Gb of data would be around 125 USD (14). Reading will be cheap, at around 1 dollar per Gb. Storing will cost around 100 000 USD per Gb. By 2050, DNA-based storage will be mainstream. Please start criticising the figure below!

DNA digital data storage, cost per Mb.

DNA storage cost forecast

Computing DNA

Using DNA for computational purposes is a bit more far-fetched. It can calculate a vast number of cases in parallel (as Quantum Computing) but it is very slow and it 's hard to isolate the results (15). There are several methods like DNA strand displacement. There are already schemes for simple calculations, like square roots, simulating a 4-bits computer (16).

There is also research on DNA computing for NLP (natural-language processing) systems (17). It is highly unlikely that they will compete with current classical computers in the foreseeable future (18). But there may be great developments after 2050.

Stay tuned. The Future is Waiting.


A fascinating introduction to Climate Change, Transport, Energy, Society and Space, Robots, Artificial intelligence, Androids, Enhanced bodies, Brain-technology interfaces, cyborgs, 5G, AR, VR, MR, HR, IOT, Quantum, Bio and Optical computers, genomics, supermaterials, nano factories and the future of food.

A mind blowing forecast for our near future.

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(0) Washington University http://www.washington.edu/news/2016/04/07/uw-team-stores-digital-images-in-dna-and-retrieves-them-perfectly/

(1) NY Times https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/12/science/film-clip-stored-in-dna.html?&moduleDetail=section-news-2&action=click&contentCollection=Science&region=Footer&module=MoreInSection&version=WhatsNext&contentID=WhatsNext&pgtype=article

(2) Technology Review https://www.technologyreview.com/s/534721/what-can-dna-based-computers-do/

(3) Big Think http://bigthink.com/philip-perry/microsoft-plans-to-have-a-dna-based-computer-by-2020

(4) Are Technica https://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2016/04/microsoft-experiments-with-dna-storage-1000000000-tb-in-a-gram/

(5) Cisco Systems http://www.cisco.com/c/en/us/solutions/collateral/service-provider/visual-networking-index-vni/vni-hyperconnectivity-wp.html

(6) Stack Overflow https://stackoverflow.com/questions/8954571/how-much-memory-would-be-required-to-store-human-dna

(7) HPC Wire https://www.hpcwire.com/2017/07/18/researchers-use-dna-store-retrieve-digital-movie/

(8) Nature http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v494/n7435/full/nature11875.html?foxtrotcallback=true

(9) Back Blaze https://www.backblaze.com/blog/hard-drive-cost-per-gigabyte/

(10) Fool.com https://www.fool.com/investing/2017/07/05/microsofts-dna-powered-server-cost-2-billion-but-p.aspx

(11) Pop Science http://www.popsci.com/future-dna-hard-drive

(12) Are you reading the references? If you find any mistake, please let me know at futureiswaiting@martin-gallardo.com Infographic here: https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/7c/2d/d1/7c2dd136046bdbf81e5c59ac0f1622fe.jpg

(13) Are Technica https://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2016/04/microsoft-experiments-with-dna-storage-1000000000-tb-in-a-gram/

(14) DNA Digital Data Cost https://www.ecosia.org/search?q=dna+digital+data+cost+per+Mb

(15) Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DNA_computing#Pros_and_cons

(16) Pop Science http://www.popsci.com/science/article/2011-06/largest-dna-based-circuit-can-compute-simple-math-step-toward-control-chemical-reactions

(17) NLP Hive Fire http://nlp.hivefire.com/articles/82407/natural-language-processing-based-on-dna-computing/

(18) Technology Review https://www.technologyreview.com/s/400727/dna-computing/

Tags: Computers of the future, DNA computers, DNA strands, DNA circuits, bio transistors, mathematics, logic gates, computing science, computing fundamentals, hard science.

Companies: Twist, DNAScript, Nuclera Nucleics, Evonetix, Molecular Assemblies, Catalog DNA, Helixworks, Nanopore, Genome Foundry.

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1 comment

  • Updates from conversations on the web:

    “Recent work has shown that global demand for conventional silicon-based memory is growing exponentially, while silicon production is growing only linearly. This disparity guarantees that silicon-based memory will become prohibitively expensive for Zetta-scale “big data” deployments within two decades” which makes it even more necessary to deploy DNA based storage.

    One of the members of the committee told me that he thinks we can have ultracheap viable solutions much earlier, and at least, commercially viable solution within 5-10 years.



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