DNA data storage has startup champion

May 20, 2019 //By Peter Clarke
DNA data storage has startup champion
James Linton, founder and CEO of startup Iridia, told the IMEC Technology Forum held in Antwerp last week that commercial DNA data storage is just a few years away.

The possibility of using DNA molecules as a highly dense memory for data storage has been known and demonstrated in academic circles for some time. George Church, a professor at Harvard University, was able to store 650kbytes of an e-book in sequenced DNA material in 2012.

Iridia Inc. (Carlsbad, Calif.) was founded in 2016 as Dodo Omni Data Inc. with a mission to develop the world's first commercial DNA-based storage system. The idea is that by combining DNA polymer synthesis technology, electronic nanoswitches and semiconductor fabrication technologies, Iridia could create an array of nanomodules with the potential to store data at exceptionally high density.

The company is working on a chip that can build synthetic DNA on command by stacking the nucleotide bases that are found in DNA. These are A, G, C and T for adenine, cytosine, guanine and thymine and are linked to a phosphodiester backbone. The order in which A, G, C and T are linked can represent a binary or more complex code for data storage.

Linton made the point that DNA is a remarkably robust polymer that is stable for hundreds and thousands of years

Linton states that molecular storage could house 1 exabyte in a cubic foot – or shoebox. An exabyte is 10^18 bytes or a million terabyte. Using contemporary storage it occupies a million cubic foot datacentre that would cost $750 million.

Microsoft and the University of Washington have made the first fully automated DNA data storage system but it is large-scale proof of concept with large-scale tubes and containers. Linton plans to use semiconductor tech to leverage the scale of operation to produce a highly parallel, in-chip read and write capability (see First fully automated DNA data storage demonstrated).

Linton said that Iridia could have an offline synthesis machine available in about six years. A fully integrated read-write chip could be eight years away.

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