What Happens When We Run Out of Cloud Storage? Scientists Suggest Storing Data in DNA

Cloud storage seems like it will solve all our problems. We no longer have to worry about where to save all our files and data. But is this really an endless supply of storage? Will we eventually run out of it? And what happens when we do? Scientists suggest that our data could be stored in DNA, which sounds odd once you connect it back to human DNA.

If you’ve been around computing for a while, you remember how we used to store files. There was limited space on computers – once they filled up we had to resort to floppy disks, CDs, external hard drives, and even flash drives. We also moved things into .zip and .sit files to makes files take up less room. And whenever we had to, we deleted files.

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Then cloud storage was introduced, and it opened up a whole new world. We have no concerns. We don’t have to delete anything. It’s just how we’ve changed to store everything. It’s a great system, and it means we have nothing worry about anymore as far as running out of room, right?

It turns out that’s not necessarily the truth. According to Digital Trends, around 2.5 quintillion bytes of data is created every day. Even more astonishingly, ninety percent of that data has been created in just the past two years.

“When we think of cloud storage, we think of these infinite stores of data,” said Hyunjun Park, the CEO and co-founder of Catalog, a data storage company. “But the cloud is really just someone else’s computer. What more people don’t realize is that we’re generating so much data that the pace at which we are generating it is far outpacing our ability to store all of it. In the very near future, we’re going to have a huge gap between the useful data that we’re generating and how we are unable to store it using conventional mediums.”

It’s unknown when it’s expected that we’ll run out of cloud storage space because newer data centers are being built and existing ones are being expanded. However, Park suggests that by 2026 we’ll only be able to store 12.5 percent of our data.

He and his co-founder, another MIT scientist, Nathaniel Roquet, created Catalog, as they believe it could change the way data storage is used today. The hope is that the data of the entire world could fit within the space of one closet.

The plan is to encode data into DNA, which definitely sounds like an adventurous plan. Apparently not everyone thinks so, as they’ve already raised $9 million in venture funding and have the support of professors from Stanford and Harvard universities.

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“A question I get asked often is, ‘Whose DNA are we using?” Park reports. “People are afraid of us taking DNA from people and turning them into mutants or things like that.”

Thankfully, that’s not the case. They are coding the data into a synthetic polymer. It isn’t anything biological. Instead, it’s a series of base pairs, as a series of ones and zeroes. However, it could be confused by something that is biological.

Using such a system of data storage has been something that was being considered for many years, 1953 in fact. But there has always been a series of problems that prevented it from being used – until now.

Catalog compares their data storage process to manufacturing custom hard drives with our data already hard-wired in. If you were to store different data, a new hard drive would need to be built for it. They compare this to mass-producing blank hard drives and filling them with encoded information only when needed.

They’ve already started storing books this way. “If you’re comparing apples to apples, the bits you can store in the same volume come out at something like one-million times the informational density of a solid-state drive,” said Park. “Whatever you can store in a flash drive, you could store one-million times that in the same volume if you’re doing it in DNA.”

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However, it may not be that much of an ideal situation. Data isn’t not immediately retrievable like it is in the cloud. Data is transformed into a solid pellet of synthetic polymer. To access that data, scientists need to rehydrate the pellet and read it with a DNA scanner. It will take hours to do this. Because of that, for right now they are concentrating on archiving data.

Park sees a possibility of DNA data being used in more exciting situations in the future. “Imagine a subcutaneous pellet containing all your health data, all your MRA scans, your blood tests, your X-rays from your dentist,” he said.

“You would always want that data to be very accessible to you, but you don’t necessarily want it up to the cloud somewhere or on an unsecured server in a hospital. If you had that much with you in the form of data, you could physically control that data and access to it while making sure that only the authorized doctors could have access to it.”

You have to admit that this does seem like more exciting possibilities than just storing things that can’t be accessed easily. To be able to keep your health data stored with you in a tiny small space would be great.

There has to be other possibilities with this type of storage. What else do you think could be stored in DNA? Does this sound like an acceptable solution to eventually replace cloud storage? Add your thoughts in the comments section below.

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