Main content area

DNA as a digital information storage device: hope or hype?

Panda, Darshan, Molla, KutubuddinAli, Baig, MirzaJainul, Swain, Alaka, Behera, Deeptirekha, Dash, Manaswini
3 Biotech 2018 v.8 no.5 pp. 239
DNA, computers, digital database, electronic chips, health hazards, human health, information storage, mutation, pollution, silicon
The total digital information today amounts to 3.52 × 10²² bits globally, and at its consistent exponential rate of growth is expected to reach 3 × 10²⁴ bits by 2040. Data storage density of silicon chips is limited, and magnetic tapes used to maintain large-scale permanent archives begin to deteriorate within 20 years. Since silicon has limited data storage ability and serious limitations, such as human health hazards and environmental pollution, researchers across the world are intently searching for an appropriate alternative. Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) is an appealing option for such a purpose due to its endurance, a higher degree of compaction, and similarity to the sequential code of 0’s and 1’s as found in a computer. This emerging field of DNA as means of data storage has the potential to transform science fiction into reality, wherein a device that can fit in our palms can accommodate the information of the entire world, as latest research has revealed that just four grams of DNA could store the annual global digital information. DNA has all the properties to supersede the conventional hard disk, as it is capable of retaining ten times more data, has a thousandfold storage density, and consumes 10⁸ times less power to store a similar amount of data. Although DNA has an enormous potential as a data storage device of the future, multiple bottlenecks such as exorbitant costs, excruciatingly slow writing and reading mechanisms, and vulnerability to mutations or errors need to be resolved. In this review, we have critically analyzed the emergence of DNA as a molecular storage device for the future, its ability to address the future digital data crunch, potential challenges in achieving this objective, various current industrial initiatives, and major breakthroughs.