Molecular data storage is an attractive alternative for dense and durable information storage, which is sorely needed to deal with the growing gap between information production and the ability to store data. DNA is a clear example of effective archival data storage in molecular form. In this Review, we provide an overview of the process, the state of the art in this area and challenges for mainstream adoption. We also survey the field of in vivo molecular memory systems that record and store information within the DNA of living cells, which, together with in vitro DNA data storage, lie at the growing intersection of computer systems and biotechnology.
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The authors thank S. Yekhanin for input on coding methods and R. Carlson, D. Carmean, G. Seelig, B. Nguyen, L. Organick, Y.-J. Chen, K. Stewart, S. D. Ang, M. Willsey, C. Takahashi and R. Lopez for helpful general discussions on DNA data storage. This work was supported, in part, by sponsored research agreements with Microsoft and Oxford Nanopore Technologies and gifts from Microsoft and DARPA under the Molecular Informatics Program.
Nature Reviews Genetics thanks R. Heckel and the other anonymous reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.
- Archival storage
A method of retaining information outside of the internal memory of a computer.
- Random access
The ability to select a portion of the data stored and thus avoid the need to read all the data in storage.
The removal of writing, recorded material or data.
- Error correcting codes
The results of mathematical manipulation of data to correct errors inserted in the data as bits are stored, transmitted and so on. The process typically involves computing a summary of the data and storing and/or transmitting it with the data and using the redundant information to correct those errors. An inner code refers to coding within a single strand to correct local errors. An outer code refers to whole new additional strands to deal with errors that are not covered by inner codes, for example, erasures.
- Physical redundancy
The number of copies of each DNA species stored. Physical redundancy is not always available in the referenced work in Table 1, so we used the sequencing coverage as an upper bound for this number.
- Logical ‘exclusive-or’ operation
A logic operation that outputs true only when inputs differ (that is, 0 xor 0 = 0; 0 xor 1 = 1; 1 xor 0 = 1; or 1 xor 1 = 0).
- Logical density
The number of bits per nucleotide in the DNA sequences produced by the encoder.
- Access latency
The time needed to retrieve data.