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Ceze and Organick in DNA lab
The University of Washington’s Luis Ceze and Lee Organick prepare DNA containing digital data for sequencing. (UW Photo / Tara Brown Photography)

Twist Bioscience says it’s extending its collaboration with Microsoft and the University of Washington on a project aimed at perfecting a process for encoding digital data in DNA molecules.

In a news release issued today, San Francisco-based Twist said Microsoft will purchase 10 million strands of synthetic DNA from the company for use in future experiments. The deal comes more a year after an initial purchase of the same number of strands for data storage.

Last July, researchers at Microsoft and UW announced that they were able to store and read out a record 200 megabytes of DNA-encoded data with 100 percent accuracy.

“After working together for over a year, the organizations have improved storage density, thereby reducing the cost of DNA digital data storage by encoding more data per strand and increasing the throughput of DNA production,” Twist said.

DNA data storage takes advantage of the four-letter molecular code used by the cell’s genetic machinery – with adenine, guanine, cytosine and thymine representing the code’s “letters.” The technology holds the promise of revolutionizing data storage. Theoretically, a trillion megabytes of data could be stored in one cubic inch of DNA solution.

“Not only does DNA provide a high density, very long-term solution to digital data storage, it requires very little energy at rest compared to today’s storage technologies,” said Luis Ceze, a UW professor of computer science and engineering who is one of the project’s lead researchers. “In addition, DNA will never become obsolete as an information storage medium, since we will always care about reading DNA. No more migration from disk to tape to denser tape.”

Microsoft researcher Karin Strauss noted that the technology still faces many challenges. For example, the speed of encoding and reading out DNA data doesn’t match what’s possible using traditional data storage media. But she said “we’re encouraged by the work we have completed to date.”

“Demand for data storage has been growing at breakneck pace,” Strauss noted. “Organizations and consumers who need to store a lot of data – for example, medical data or personal video footage – will benefit from a new long-term storage solution. We believe DNA may provide that answer.”

Twist CEO Emily Leproust said her company was “thrilled” to be part of the project.

“We are delighted to see the positive response and growing excitement over DNA as a solution to our world’s growing digital storage dilemma,” she said.

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