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Storing data in your DNA? Well, yeah

Suppose you’re on the run from some nefarious people. And, suppose those people really want the data you’re hiding from them. Where would you hide it? In my science fiction novel, I imagine our heroes storing it in their DNA. Feasible?

There’s always a constraining factor in tech. When we first were provided access to the internet, the constraining factor was bandwidth. We endured dial up modems that screeched as they connected us at what today we would consider a painfully slow speed of data transmission.

Enter broadband. Once we were able to download data and video at an acceptable rate, there was a new constraint: storage. Those of us who have suffered through floppy disks, zip drives and slow uploads were delighted when USB sticks came along. This may sound quaint and raise a chuckle among those who remember those times, or an eye roll among those younger folks who carry memory sticks in their pockets. But clearly, even those memory sticks will soon become obsolete.

New technologies promise to store substantially more data at a lower cost and take less space. Western Digital has begun delivering 10 terabyte hard drives that are filled with helium instead of air. Helium disk drives use less power and run cooler than traditional drives. Seagate Technologies has introduced Shingled Magnetic Recording which stores data layer upon data like shingles on your roof.

More interesting is the prospect of using DNA for data storage. Harvard researchers began experimenting with this approach in 2012. Incredibly, all the worlds data could be stored in a mass of DNA about the size of a teaspoon. And, unlike storage technologies currently in use, it will stand the test of time. A typical storage medium today needs to be replaced every few years. DNA, on the other hand, lasts for hundreds of thousands of years. The challenge of using it today is the time it takes to read and write data from this complex structure.

Nevertheless, I have imagined that problem solved in The Awakening of Artemis. How? Well, you’ll have to buy the book to find out.

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