Twist Bioscience and Microsoft to Store the World’s Data in DNA

Twist Bioscience Logo

Twist Bioscience, a startup making and using synthetic DNA to store digital data, recently struck a contract with Microsoft and the University of Washington to encode vast amounts of information on synthetic genes.

Big data means business and the company able to gather a lot of it is very valuable to investors and stockholders. But that data needs to be stored somewhere and can cost a lot for the upkeep.

Digital data stored on media also has a finite shelf life. But researchers have discovered new ways to stuff digital information over the last few years – including in our DNA, which can last thousands of years intact.

Just how much data can you store in your genes? According to Harvard scientists, about 700 terabytes can go on a single gram.

Or, to put it in layman’s terms, “[Using DNA,] you could fit all the knowledge in the whole world inside the trunk of your car,” Twist Bioscience CEO Emily Leproust told TechCrunch.

The cost of genetic sequencing has also plummeted recently, going from $2.7 billion to map out just one whole human genome in 2003 to now the ability to pull up your entire genome on your smartphone for under $1,000.

 We don’t know what exactly Microsoft plans to put inside tiny strands of DNA but the new technology presents an interesting way to keep a lot of data in a small amount of space for a really long time.

Twist Bioscience recently acquired the Israel-based Genome Compiler Corporation and announced a teeny tiny funding round of $2.6 million this month – an odd contrast to the $81 million raised earlier in January to build out its synthetic DNA manufacturing platform.

This phase in the startup’s continued growth is still in its infancy – Twist’s researchers are still testing out the idea of data storage in DNA and a commercially viable product isn’t likely to be ready for a couple of years – but early tests indicate the idea is possible.

“The initial test phase with Twist demonstrated that we could encode and recover 100 percent of the digital data from synthetic DNA,” Microsoft researcher Doug Carmean said.

Article Credit: TechCrunch

Twist Bioscience Accompanying Press Release

Twist Bioscience, a company accelerating science and innovation through rapid, high-quality DNA synthesis, is announcing that Microsoft Corp. has agreed to purchase ten million long oligonucleotides from Twist Bioscience to encode digital data.

“Today, the vast majority of digital data is stored on media that has a finite shelf life and periodically needs to be re-encoded. DNA is a promising storage media, as it has a known shelf life of several thousand years, offers a permanent storage format and can be read for continuously decreasing costs,” commented Emily M. Leproust, Ph.D., CEO of Twist Bioscience. “Our silicon-based DNA synthesis platform offers unmatched scale and product quality that vastly accelerates the ability to write DNA at a cost enabling data storage.  We are thrilled to work with Microsoft, and University of Washington researchers, to address the growing challenge of digital data storage.”

“As our digital data continues to expand exponentially, we need new methods for long-term, secure data storage,” said Doug Carmean, a Microsoft partner architect within the company’s Technology and Research organization. “The initial test phase with Twist demonstrated that we could encode and recover 100 percent of the digital data from synthetic DNA. We’re still years away from a commercially-viable product, but our early tests with Twist demonstrate that in the future we’ll be able to substantially increase the density and durability of data storage.”

Using DNA for Digital Data Storage

The quantity of digital data is doubling approximately every two years yet the ability to store this data is not keeping pace. There is a drastic need for a new storage medium that effectively and accurately stores data. The recent convergence of affordable DNA sequencing and the scalability of Twist Bioscience’s silicon-based DNA synthesis technique presents a new opportunity enabling the oldest lifeform, DNA, to become a viable data storage option. Using DNA as an archival technology avoids two key limitations of traditional digital storage media: limited lifespan and low data density. DNA data storage could last up to 2,000 years without deterioration according to a recent presentation at the American Chemical Society. In addition, a single gram of DNA can store almost a one trillion gigabytes (almost a zettabyte) of digital data.

About Twist Bioscience

At Twist Bioscience, our expertise is accelerating science and innovation by leveraging the power of scale. We have developed a proprietary semiconductor-based synthetic DNA manufacturing process featuring a 10,000-well silicon platform capable of producing synthetic biology tools, including genes, oligonucleotide pools and variant libraries. By synthesizing DNA on silicon instead of on traditional 96-well plastic plates, our platform overcomes the current inefficiencies of synthetic DNA production, and enables cost-effective, rapid, high-quality and high throughput synthetic gene production, which in turn, expedites the design, build, test cycle to enable personalized medicines, pharmaceuticals, sustainable chemical production, improved agriculture production, diagnostics, biodetection and data storage.