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Data Storage Microsoft Cloud Hardware Science

Microsoft Wants To Use DNA For Cloud Data Storage (technologyreview.com) 50

Last July, researchers from Microsoft and the University of Washington said that they had successfully encoded about 200 megabytes of data onto synthetic DNA molecules. The company is now planning to take the technology commercial. "Computer architects at Microsoft Research say the company has formalized a goal of having an operational storage system based on DNA working inside a data center toward the end of this decade," reports MIT Technology Review. "The aim is a 'proto-commercial system in three years storing some amount of data on DNA in one of our four centers for at least a boutique application,' says Doug Carmean, a partner architect at Microsoft Research." From the report: Internally, Microsoft harbors the even more ambitious goal of replacing tape drives, a common format used for archiving information. Major obstacles to a practical storage system remain. Converting digital bits into DNA code (made up of chains of nucleotides labeled A, G, C, and T) remains laborious and expensive because of the chemical process used to manufacture DNA strands. In its demonstration project, Microsoft used 13,448,372 unique pieces of DNA. Experts say buying that much material on the open market would cost $800,000. According to Microsoft, the cost of DNA storage needs to fall by a factor of 10,000 before it becomes widely adopted. While many experts say that's unlikely, Microsoft believes such advances could occur if the computer industry demands them.
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Microsoft Wants To Use DNA For Cloud Data Storage

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  • At least Microsoft Research is doing something more useful than this [youtube.com].

  • Combining DNA in a near infinitude of combinations is going to require the whole thing be handled like a level 5 biohazard, because you'll be producing prions and sequences of DNA that aren't found in nature, and to which we have zero resistance. Makes a hard disk or an ssd crash look positively benign, since all you'll lose is your data.

    It would also be great for making known bio-weapons - just record multiple instances of sequences for, say, smallpox, then break the seal in a populated space.

    • I don't know their methods, but with a little overhead in your data size, you could probably render the resulting sequence biologically inert.

      • Not really. Just look at how much junk DNA we carry around, and yet our DNA still works.
        • But the junk DNA doesn't seem to have any ill effects against the core programming. If the entire dataset was encoded to be "junk" then it won't do anything.

          • Try enough different combinations and you're going to get some that are not junk. It's like the million monkeys typing on a million typewriters.
      • by sjames ( 1099 )

        Yeah, but would anyone be that surprised if the latest MS install disk encoded to a hyper virulent super Ebola?

        • Right now they're on the Extend phase of adopting DNA. Extinguish isn't for another cycle or two.

    • No, you need a vector to do something with the DNA or RNA, such as a viral vector. These are all very specific in their targets, and they are used every day in thousands of labs around the world to shuttle DNA and RNA into cells. But it is not a good digital storage mechanism for big data.

      This will never be used to store digital information. You could do it much more easily with a much simpler, man made system of chemical 1 and 0 s in any type of medium, silicon or biological. The triplet code in DNA/'RNA r

      • DNA is used to make all sorts of fun things, like proteins, prions, and viruses. To be able to store arbitrary information, the dna encoding will have to allow for the creation of sequences not found in nature, or it won't achieve the desired density.since the data would have to be encoded in longer sequences of naturally-occurring dna. Either way, you've got the dna equivalent of a 3d printer.
      • All it would take is someone having the bright idea of creating a bacteria to serve as a 'backup system', to replicate the DNA strands.
    • Which is why I said this [slashdot.org]. I said it not just to be funny.
      For even greater potential hazard, be sure to thoroughly encrypt the data before committing it to strands of DNA.

      Worst idea ever. Nice job, Microsoft.
    • by interkin3tic ( 1469267 ) on Monday May 22, 2017 @07:41PM (#54466743)
      There's no biosafety level 5, it only goes up to four.

      More importantly, no to the rest of it.These are not going to be living things, they're going to be dried nucleotides on paper most likely. There is going to be no transcription or translation and creation of proteins. First of all that's much more difficult and doesn't happen on its own. Second that would defeat the point of data storage. Having the DNA doing stuff would cause its degradation and loss.

      It's like saying "don't download that encyclopedia on that external hard drive! It might achieve sentience!" Nothing is happening to the data either way, and in both cases, making "life" would be impossible.

      Life requires a lot more than DNA. There are some plant viruses IIRC that can reproduce simply by injecting their DNA or RNA sequence into plant cells. But I didn't hear about any such human viruses. Viruses require protein machinery to take over the cell in addition to their DNA. You synthesize the smallpox genome and inject it into your veins, you're not going to develop smallpox.

      ... I mean, I wouldn't try that myself, but my fears over doing that are purely illogical.

      The smallpox genome is also a 186 kilobase sequence [wikipedia.org]. It's not something that's sure to show up with much frequency even if all the DNA in MS's storage were to get into your cells. If anyone knows a way of calculating how much DNA you'd need to synthesize at random before you came up with those specific 186000 nucleotides, I'd be very interested, but I'm guessing it's a lot.

      Finally, synthesizing nucleotides is old hat. The scale and cost is the new thing here. You want to synthesize a smallpox genome? You can do that already. [idtdna.com] There aren't even any laws against it yet! It's going to cost you a lot and again, DNA itself wouldn't do shit besides freak people out, but you can. It'd be much easier just to find smallpox itself. But either way, there's nothing completely new here besides it's now cheap and fast enough to consider doing for data storage.

      Quit getting spooked by biology.
      • The potential is exciting, but the big issues are cost of synthesis, which is fixable, and stability, which is unfortunately more pervasive. DNA is super stable, but only when its uncontaminated. Nucleases (enzymes specifically designed to cleave DNA) are everywhere and certain chemical or UV exposure would ruin the base sequences irreparably. Basically if the hard drive isn't in sterile conditions it risks being easily destroyed, so a misplaced sneeze could delete everything. Also cytosine (C) has a tende
      • Given that this could in theory produce DNA more dangerous than anything found in nature, you'd damn well better have a level 5.

        There are some plant viruses IIRC that can reproduce simply by injecting their DNA or RNA sequence into plant cells. But I didn't hear about any such human viruses

        The flu virus hijacks your body's cells to reproduce pretty much the same way. Surely you've heard of the flu virus.

        Prions also aren't living, just chunks of protein, but they cause mad cow disease, and they can be distributed by eating infected meat, by blood transfusion, and experiments have show that it can be distributed and successfully infect mice in aerosol form.

        • The flu virus hijacks your body's cells to reproduce pretty much the same way. Surely you've heard of the flu virus.

          Citation needed. Yes influenza has DNA, but it also has an envelope in order to get into the cells. DNA just floating around in the air isn't going to get into a cell. DNA floating around in your bloodstream even is going to get shredded by your immune system. So please, prove to me that naked DNA outside of cells can cause viruses inside the cells.

          The suggestion that there should be a biosafety level 5, higher than an intact ebola virus, for DNA by itself is patently absurd.

          I'm not sure what prions

          • First, viruses are not alive, they're just DNA or RNA with a protein coating. Neither the DNA, RNA, or the coating are produced by the virus - they're produced by the host cell. Viruses are like bricks - they're inert objects made in a factory.

            Viroses neither "eat", nor "excrete". No metabolism. They cannot move on their own. They literally go wherever the environment carries them.

            We know what ebola is, and how to treat it - and people can survive without treatment, same as some (a very few) survive for d

    • DNA will be eaten in short order. other than RNA or writing it on sand on a tidal flat, they could not have picked a less viable long term storage media.

  • Microsoft should just spin off a whole new company specifically for this project.
    They can name it The Umbrella Corporation.
  • No jokes about wanking yet? This place isn't what it used to be.

    • Only 200 megabytes? I once stored more than 8 petabytes in DNA in a cloud in the bathtub! Should have filed a patent, I'd be rich now...

      • by Wolfrider ( 856 )

        That was YOU?! I couldn't use that bathroom for 45 minutes after you were done! Next time try a courtesy spray, you insensitive clod!

        / damn green clouds hanging around...

  • by dAzED1 ( 33635 ) on Monday May 22, 2017 @07:17PM (#54466637) Journal
    I know MS has long had a history of being especially prone to viruses based on basic design decisions, but this is almost retro!
    • retroviral indeed.

    • Um, yes, it gives the concept of viral data a whole new meaning. Be careful with your data patterns so that none of them generate a killer disease in the Microsoft cloud in 2072.


  • This will give a whole new meaning to the phrase "Computer Virus".
  • by Gravis Zero ( 934156 ) on Monday May 22, 2017 @07:28PM (#54466689)

    Using DNA for data storage is a real possibility but what they need to do more than anything is to simplify the encoding and decoding so that it is both speedy and more importantly, costs next to nothing. What this really means is building complex molecular machines which is something we have yet to manage. It might take 50 years before we manage to figure out how make complex molecular machines but the result will be amazing in the same way that graphics rendering thought up 50 years ago is amazing on modern GPUs.

  • I doubt it is unlikely. I am no expert, but the cost of genetic sequencing has dropped tremendously in the PAST 20 years? Why should we expect the costs of creating our own sequences to not become easier with time and new methods?

    I am not here to debate the ethics of such a thing, but to hand wave it away as if it will not happen is likely to be hubris.

  • Proprietary software and for profit enterprising at work. Besides, agents Scully and Molder (X-Files) can tell you all about "DNA storage." Surely our government in real life wouldn't encourage people to store their DNA? Ancestry.com, 23 And Me, CDC scaring baby boomers into blood testing for hep C, and now M$ DNA storage, to which I'm sure there's a patent to profit billions from if it works. It's probably just some fany micro-electrophoresis like what they use in forensics and with a way to interpret the
  • Microsoft has finally caught up to Johnny Mnemonic.

  • If yes, what does it do?

A bug in the hand is better than one as yet undetected.