Our partner CATALOG has a vision to instead use nature’s data storage medium, perfected over billions of years: DNA.
Millions of times more data
DNA can store millions of times more data in the same volume as conventional data storage, can last thousands of years and is easily physically owned, even massive amounts of it. In October 2018, we announced our partnership with CATALOG, and plans for a machine that would encode data in DNA.
From the lab to the real world
The goal of the project was to take CATALOG’s unique and proprietary method for encoding data in DNA and to build the machine that supports the scaling up of the encoding process, reaching speeds that could take DNA data storage out of the lab and into the real world, moving towards a future where it’s economically viable to use DNA as the medium for long-term archival of data.
A landmark moment
Less than a year after the announcement, in July 2019, the ‘terabit machine’ achieved a landmark moment. It encoded the whole of the English-language Wikipedia into DNA, demonstrating success in terms of speed, scale and accuracy.
The machine we developed with Cambridge Consultants brings DNA data storage out of the research lab and into the real world, for the first time in history.
Massive digital data storage
What’s next commercially? CATALOG’s ambition is to become the world’s first DNA-based platform for massive digital data storage and biological computation. CATALOG has discussions underway with government agencies, major international science projects that generate huge amounts of test data, major firms in oil and gas, media and entertainment, finance, and other industries.
Uniting engineering & biology
The project was an extremely challenging one. It required us to build a highly diverse team here at Cambridge Consultants to work with the similarly diverse researchers at CATALOG. It also showcased our ability to unite engineering, computer science and biology to solve complex problems and make radical new ideas a reality.
Entirely different approach
CATALOG’s proprietary method takes an entirely different approach than traditional thinking on DNA data storage. As an analogy, assume the information to be stored is a book, which can be stored by copying it. The traditional approach would go about this by transcribing the book from start to finish, letter for letter. This is a time consuming and expensive process. Further, if you want to store a different book, you must start again from scratch, meaning the cost would be doubled.
Faster & cheaper
The CATALOG approach can be thought of as building a printing press with typefaces. The company rearranges the typefaces (pre-made DNA molecules) to match the contents of the book. Because of this, the process is faster and cheaper. The incremental cost for printing different additional books is also significantly lower.
Stored for hundreds of years
Data will be encoded using the fragments of synthetic DNA and can be stored for hundreds of years with little or no power consumption. How’s that as a contribution towards saving the planet?