An Irish synbio start-up is about to make waves in the fascinating world of DNA data storage after announcing that it will make it available to the masses on Amazon.
If we are to preserve our legacy as a species in thousands, or even millions of years’ time, our current method of data storage on existing hard drives is simply not going to cut it, with many commercially available solid-state drives lasting decades at the most.
One alternative revealed this year showed the possibility of storing huge amounts of data on nanostructured glass in five dimensions with a lifespan of nearly 14bn years.
But what if we could store data in the very fabric of our being, our DNA?
An Irish start-up success
This exciting field of data storage has seen huge sums of money pumped into researching how we can transfer data into DNA from research bodies right up to major corporations like Microsoft which purchased 10m strands of DNA to develop new methods of storage earlier this year.
Now, in what could be a major breakthrough for the field, an Ireland-based start-up called Helixworks announced what it claims to be the first commercially available DNA data storage that can be purchased straight from Amazon.
— Helixworks (@Helixworks) July 28, 2016
Previously featured on Siliconrepublic.com’s list of 13 biotech companies chosen for fast growth at IndieBio EU, Helixworks’ CEO, Nimesh Chandra, revealed the new service on stage at last night’s (28 July) IndieBio demo day in Cork.
What this means for you and me is that by using the new product – called DNADrive – we can store 512KB of digital data on DNA ensuring that it will, for all intents and purposes, survive for an eternity.
Store a poem for eternity
While this might seem like a very small amount of data, this marks the start of a future DNA storage market where the possibilities of data storage quantities will only increase in size and reduce in cost.
For those buying DNADrive, Helixworks will send out a custom gold pill containing the encoded DNA, with a potential shelf-life of thousands of years.
Rather than being just for show, the addition of the gold pill provides radiation and moisture protection for the DNA strand, enhancing the almost indestructible nature of DNA.
When offering ideas as to what DNADrive can be used for, Helixworks suggests using it “to store a small photograph, a poem, a love-letter, a eulogy for a loved one, or a bitcoin wallet”.
Another product revealed by the company at the IndieBio event was GeneSlice that researchers or biotech enthusiasts can use synthesise double-stranded DNA (dsDNA) for €19 per 750 base pair.
Siliconrepublic.com has reached out to Chandra and the Helixworks team to hear more about how they have been able to achieve this feat of biotech and will update accordingly.
Having spoken with Chandra, it seems that purchasing DNA data storage in its current form is not just a novelty, but can be accessed from the gold capsule by sending it to a lab capable of DNA sequencing.
Hypothesising where this technology could go, Chandra sees that within the next five years Helixworks will be capable of storing 1TB of data on a DNA sample, although this will require “huge, huge, huge” amounts of synthesised DNA, currently outside of the start-up’s reach.
This is important Chandra said having grown up in an Indian culture where the oral scriptures of Ramayna and Mahabharatha have been passed from generation to generation.
“If you had something like DNA which is really tiny and very easy to store, [the data] could technically survive a nuclear blast inside a capsule. All of these things make it really long-term.”
Also looking to the future, Chandra notes a few times that DNA storage to the masses could be achieved using a handheld DNA sequencer, similar to the one developed by Oxford Nanosystems called the MinION.
“If you could work it out on the MinION, then people will be able to do it at home,” Chandra said. “They won’t even need to send the sample off to any sequencing facility and that way you would have the data to yourself.”
While currently focused on developing as product for the consumer market, Helixworks wants to begin working with movie studios who have expressed an interest in using DNA data storage to preserve their archives for millennia.
Disclosure: IndieBio is an SOSV accelerator. SOSV is an investor in Silicon Republic
DNA fingerprint data on paper image via Shutterstock