Twist and shout: Microsoft buys 10m strands of DNA for data storage

28 Apr 2016

Microsoft is going organic, stocking up on 10m molecules of custom DNA to develop new methods of data storage. Manufacturer Twist Bioscience is only too happy to help.

Storing data remains one of the main costs for tech companies. It requires tangible buildings, which need heating, cooling, staffing, maintenance and security, in fact, we’ve already seen some of the cool ways companies are going about managing their armoury of sellable information.

From storing data on your own computer, to filing it away on floppy discs, CDs, USBs, external hard drives and, now, in the cloud, data storage changes are inevitable and, sometimes, downright weird.

Microsoft has announced it has bought 10m molecules of custom DNA from a San Francisco start-up Twist Bioscience – with the company investigating the possibility of storing massive amounts of data on single molecules.

The logic is DNA remains intact for thousands of years, outstripping any modern methods of storage. Microsoft estimates that one exabyte of data can be archived on a cubic millimetre of DNA, lasting 500 years.

“As our digital data continues to expand exponentially, we need new methods for long-term, secure data storage,” said Doug Carmean, a Microsoft partner architect.

“The initial test phase with Twist demonstrated that we could encode and recover 100pc of the digital data from synthetic DNA. We’re still years away from a commercially-viable product, but our early tests with Twist demonstrate that in the future we’ll be able to substantially increase the density and durability of data storage.”

It’s thought that, every two years, the planet’s data stock doubles, meaning finding new, efficient, extensive ways to store data is becoming a must.

Now that DNA sequencing is becoming cheaper and more accessible – Twist has spent considerable time raising funding to research storage processes – tech companies are obviously keen to jump in.

DNA image via Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic