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Data is growing at an alarming rate, given the explosive rise of social networking and cloud computing in the last two years. Every day, an estimated 2.5 quintillion (1000^6) bytes of data are created. To put that number in perspective, that’s 2,273,736.75 terabytes of data created each day. The numbers are almost too extreme to comprehend.  Where is this data going to be stored?

The humble hard-disk drive, standard equipment for PCs since the 1980s is currently the only solution for large data storage.  Big-data centers still rely on hard drives, actually hoards of them in vast arrays. Why so many drives? Because the biggest conventional hard drives currently hold “only” a few terabytes, and the technology is reaching its limits. The capacity of hard drives isn’t keeping up with the increase in Big Data requirements.

Enter Biostorage.  Scientists and Bio engineers have successfully stored 700 terabytes of data in a single gram of DNA. Just think about it for a moment: One gram of DNA can store 700 terabytes of data. That’s 14,000 50-gigabyte Blu-ray discs, in a droplet of DNA that would fit on the tip of your little finger. To store the same kind of data on hard drives — the densest storage medium in use today — you’d need 233 3TB drives, weighing a total of 151 kilos.

Now for the techy bit. Instead of binary data being encoded as magnetic regions on a hard drive platter, strands of DNA that store bits are synthesized, with each of the base pairs (TG/AC) representing a binary value (TG = 1, AC = 0). To read the data stored in DNA, you simply sequence it — just as if you were sequencing the human genome — and convert each of the TGAC bases back into binary. To aid with sequencing, each strand of DNA has a 19-bit address block at the start. So a whole vat of DNA can be sequenced out of order, and then sorted into usable data using the addresses.

All this work has only been possible with a new kind of silicon chip developed by researchers at Glasgow University, Scotland. In just three hours, this new chip — called Ion Torrent — successfully sequenced the genome of a strain of E. coli that recently killed 37 people in Europe. Using this chip the DNA storage is currently only fast enough for long term data storage but this will decrease with new enhancements.

Watch this space for personal data being very personal, IE stored in your own DNA.

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