One Day You too may have a Disaster Recovery Plan in Your DNA

Yes, you can take that title literally. While the debate goes on about whether a disaster recovery plan should be centred on back-up to hard disk or tape, there’s a new kid on the storage block (or around the corner for the moment) – DNA. In a paper entitled “Next-Generation Digital Information Storage in DNA”, authors George M.Church, Yuan Gao and Sriram Kosuri describe how to encode any digital information in DNA, a storage medium that in their words is one of the “most dense and stable” ones known. So how does it work? And how soon will you be able to use DNA in your DR?

First a word about the storage capacity of DNA itself: theoretically (and perhaps soon practically?), you can encode the equivalent of 100 billion DVDs onto one gram of Deoxyribonucleic acid. That’s an awful lot for any disaster recovery plan. The way the scientists accomplished the encoding they discuss in their paper was to build DNA artificially and then print portions of it onto a glass chip using an inkjet printer. Because the fragments were each encoded with an “address”, existing methods for reading DNA sequences could be used to read back from the chip and recover all the data encoded.

How soon can you have it for your disaster recovery plan? You’ll have to be patient. The encoding procedure for just a few megabytes of data took the scientists several days, way too slow for requirements in most disaster recovery plans. However, before you dismiss the idea, there are a few points to remember. Firstly, the process is now being accelerated. Secondly, the scientists used only equipment available off the shelf to do their DNA data storage and retrieval. And thirdly, costs of such equipment are dropping faster than in the electronic world. Who knows, maybe in a few years’ time…?