DNA data storage involves encoding and decoding binary data to and from synthesized strands of DNA. It offers generous, long-lasting, and stable data storage solution with orders of magnitude relatively higher than current storage mediums. Owing to the numerous benefits offered by DNA data storage as compared to other mediums, it is anticipated that this technology in a short term, will exceed the performance and cost characteristics of other storage devices while retaining the advantages specific to DNA-based technology.
DNA data storage is an innovative technology that works by encoding large digital data sequences of binary form (0s and 1s) into DNA sequences (Adenine (A), Guanine (G), Cytosine (C) and Thymine (T)). Consequently, the data is retrieved by sequencing this DNA chain and decoding the nucleotide sequences from the artificial DNA back into binary data. The above-mentioned process comprises of three major physical components:
Coding and DNA Writing
Retrieval and DNA Reading
Coding and DNA Writing
The primary approach in DNA data storage is code writing. The information is converted into a binary sequence, for it to be later converted into the base sequence. The binary data is further translated into a DNA sequence of length less than 200 nucleotides so that it can be retrieved back accurately. Presently, synthesis of artificial DNA is based on two techniques, namely chemical method, and enzymatic method.
The chemical method of synthesizing DNA relies on coupling of solid- phase phosphoramidite either on traditional column-based synthesizers or microarray-based synthesizers. However, it is considered as a tedious and costly process. Additionally, it requires synthesis of small DNA fragments in parallel that must be assembled in a separate step, making the process prone to errors as well.
The enzymatic synthesis of DNA makes use of terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase (TdT) enzyme to produce synthetic DNA with precise sequence. TdT works without a template DNA strand, indiscriminately adding dNTPs to the 3’ termini of DNA strands. It is important to highlight that enzymatic method allows the synthesis of longer sequences of DNA at a lower cost and higher speed over traditional methods.
Owing to its capability of accommodating itself into any structure, DNA can be stored in any geometric form or shape. It can either be pooled for liquid storage or immobilized on solid surfaces by embedding on materials like glass or plastic. Moreover, factors such as heat, humidity and light can induce some serious damage to the DNA molecule. Therefore, proper storage conditions along with promising immobilization techniques are essential to ensure outstanding lifetime of DNA database.
Retrieval and DNA Reading
DNA reading is generally preceded by DNA retrieval, that involves two approaches, namely DNA extraction and selective PCR amplification of the required sequences using a specific primer. Further, to read the retrieved DNA, majority of the players engaged in this domain presently employ two major mechanisms, namely next-generation sequencing and nanopore sequencing.
Next-generation sequencing technology is a large-scale parallel sequencing mechanism, which enables the simultaneous sequencing of several DNA molecules with short read lengths. This method relies on fragmenting the retrieved DNA into multiple pieces, adding adapters, sequencing the libraries, and reassembling them to reveal the base sequence of DNA.
In this method, DNA sequencing relies on the conversion of electrical signal of nucleotides by passing through a nanopore, which is attached with cyclodextrin molecule, the binding site for nucleotides. The principle is based on the modulation of the ionic current through the pore as a DNA molecule traverses it, revealing characteristics and parameters of the molecule.
The Evolving Landscape of DNA Data Storage
During our research, we identified over 24 players that offer technologies / services related to DNA data storage.
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The market is dominated by the presence of small and mid-sized companies, which account for nearly 80% of all the DNA data storage technology / service providers. The growing demand for sustainable data storage mediums within the digital data storage industry has spurred the establishment of many small firms / start-ups in the last decade.
Majority of the companies (44%) are involved in offering technologies / services related to coding and DNA writing (DNA synthesis). This is followed by the companies (13) providing technologies / services related to retrieval and DNA reading (DNA sequencing).
We came across 14 players that are only engaged in providing technologies pertaining to DNA based data storage; of these majority of the players (12) offer coding and DNA writing (DNA synthesis) technologies. It is worth mentioning that eight firms claim to have the necessary capabilities to offer both technologies and services related to DNA data.
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A significant rise in number of patents related to DNA Data Storage have been seen in recent years, attributing the growing demand of technologies to establish DNA as a digital storage media.
Several organizations have extended support to aid research efforts in this domain; currently, the focus, in terms of grants awarded, is primarily in support of steps involved in DNA data storage process.
The rising interest in this field is reflected in the number of partnerships inked by the various stakeholders across different application areas; majority of which deals were inked for product development and commercialization, featuring the participation of both international and indigenous stakeholders.
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Several organizations have extended financial support to aid research efforts in this domain; currently, the focus, in terms of funds disbursed, is primarily in support of steps involved in DNA data storage process.
The market is expected to witness steady growth over the coming decade; the opportunity will be dispersed across different DNA data storage steps, method of DNA synthesis and method of DNA sequencing.
The market is projected to grow at an annualized rate of nearly 70% and the opportunity is expected to be distributed across different steps involved in the DNA data storage process and key geographies
The amount of digital data being produced has grown exponentially over the last few years and is likely to witness significant rise in the future as well. In order to deal with the capacity crunch, scientific community came up with the idea of leveraging the potential of genetic material, DNA for digital information storage. DNA, which consists of long chains of nucleotides can act as a stable medium of storing massive data. Owing to its high density and extended biological life, several companies are exploring the potential of DNA as a sustainable option for digital data storage.
Given the various advantages of employing DNA as a data storage medium and the ongoing advancements in DNA synthesis methods, we are led to believe that DNA data storge will usher in a new paradigm for computing with little to no limitations on the volume of data that we can produce, store, and access.
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