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The archivist’s dilemma is never about finding data. Sure, some media takes a bit of digging, but you generally have a grasp on what you’re preserving. The problem is where you preserve it. Reliable storage mediums are notoriously hard to come by, especially ones that go the distance. We’ve grown a lot since the days of films being stored on highly flammable film stock. Even still, the discs and hard drives of the modern day won’t last forever. That’s why researchers are always looking for the next big leap, the solution to keeping our evergrowing collective history alive. Perhaps we only had to look inside. Yes, we’re talking about the very blueprints of life. DNA strands are one possible solution to the problem of data storage.
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A report in The Economist looks into Catalog, a Bostonian biotech firm working on making this technology feasible. (Or should we say “affordable?”) Right now, storing just one GB of data in DNA costs several million dollars. Doing this on a hard drive or an SD card is so trivial that it can’t be measured that way. With time, Catalog looks to whittle down the cost of storage to $10 per GB. It may cost more than a tiny SD card, but it will take up way less space.
So, while you probably won’t have a vat of movie goo a la Mystery Science Theater 3000 in the near future, the folks up at Disney just might. Since more and more content needs safekeeping every day, a huge media conglomerate might see the benefit to condensing their server racks down to a few vials of thousands and thousands of molecules. Catalog is trying to achieve this by crafting 100 distinct DNA patterns and then combining them as a language of data. It’s slightly less accurate than writing new patterns for each bit of data, but it should allow for trillions of combinations and has other advantages as well.
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As of now, the company is working on a prototype machine that can convert 125GB of data a day to this new format. If all goes well, they plan on expanding the tech in the next few years to converters with much more output. As long as David Cronenberg keeps far away from the lab, we should all live to see some extremely interesting advancements.