Microsoft and University of Washington create automated DNA data storage

Microsoft and University of Washington create automated DNA data storage
The system can store far more than datacentres and frees up researchers’ time for other tasks

Elly Yates-Roberts |

Microsoft and the University of Washington (UW) have demonstrated the first fully automated DNA data storage system. It can store vast amounts of information, more than in datacentres, and enables researchers to spend time on other, less repetitive tasks. 

Microsoft has been exploring how to store vast quantities of data that are generated each day. With fabricated DNA, all the information currently stored in warehouse-sized datacentres could fit into a space roughly the size of a few dice.

With the new system, the team from Microsoft and UW successfully encoded the word ‘hello’ into snippets of fabricated DNA and converted it back to digital data using a fully automated end-to-end system, which is described in a new paper.

“Our ultimate goal is to put a system into production that, to the end user, looks very much like any other cloud storage service — bits are sent to a datacentre and stored there and then they just appear when the customer wants them,” said Karin Strauss, a principal researcher at Microsoft. “To do that, we needed to prove that this is practical from an automation perspective.”

One immediate benefit of the system is that it frees researchers up to ask deeper questions, instead of spending time repetitively squeezing liquids into test tubes.

“Having an automated system to do the repetitive work allows those of us working in the lab to take a higher view and begin to assemble new strategies — to essentially innovate much faster,” said Bichlien Nguyen, a researcher at Microsoft.

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