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Here’s Microsoft's secret recipe for storage success: salt and DNA

DNA storage
(Image credit: Catalog)
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Microsoft researchers waited more than two years to be assigned a patent that brings the possibility of storing data on DNA a little closer - a move likely to make backup media such as tape obsolete.

The High-density DNA storage with salt patent (no. 10,793,852) was filed back in 2018, but only received approval at the USPTO in October 2020. 

It reads like a kitchen recipe, referring to a dried product formed by “drying a salt solution together with artificially synthesized DNA molecules encoding digital information”. Apparently, the cations and anions at play do not influence the result of the process.

Salt solution?

Drying the DNA with salt prevents it from degrading too fast; Microsoft researchers found that removing liquid reduces the rate of degradation by nearly 70% compared with untreated DNA. Likewise, the dry product formed from DNA and a salt have a far higher DNA density, by almost one third.

DNA storage with salt seems to be an exciting (albeit far-fetched) candidate for long-term, high-density storage for archival purposes. Unsurprisingly, the patent is coy about timeframes and storage capacities, which is understandable given how far we are from getting a product.

The news comes a few days after Microsoft announced it has joined forces with Western Digital, the world’s largest storage company, and a few others to launch the DDSA (DNA Data Storage Alliance) . The initiative aims to standardize and promote the adoption of a potential future DNA-based storage system.

Via StorageNewsletter

Desire Athow

Managing Editor, TechRadar Pro

Désiré has been musing and writing about technology during a career spanning four decades. He dabbled in website building and web hosting when DHTML and frames were en vogue and started writing about the impact of technology on society just before the start of the Y2K hysteria at the turn of the last millennium. Then followed a weekly tech column in a local business magazine in Mauritius, a late night tech radio programme called Clicplus and a freelancing gig at the now-defunct, Theinquirer, with the legendary Mike Magee as mentor. Following an eight-year stint at where he discovered the joys of global techfests, Désiré now heads up TechRadar Pro. He has an affinity for anything hardware and staunchly refuses to stop writing reviews of obscure products or cover niche B2B software-as-a-service providers.