Data storage: the DNA revolution

Two founding revolutionary statements stored and encapsulated in DNA are now entering the National Archives. Behind this project, the DNA Drive technology, developed by researchers Stéphane Lemaire and Pierre Crozet.

Two metal capsules, each containing 100 billion copies of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen of 1789, and the Declaration of the Rights of Women and of the Citizen, drawn up by Olympe de Gouges in 1791, have joined the most precious documents from the National Archives. These archives, the very first to be preserved in DNA form, will thus join the famous Iron Cabinet, a monumental safe built in 1790, alongside all the French constitutions, the journal of Louis XVI, the meter and the kilogram standards in platinum, or even from the will of Louis XIV. Behind the symbol, a possible technological revolution: after paper and silicon, will DNA be the next medium for information?

The limits of magneto-optical storage

In 2020, humanity produced 45 zettabytes of digital data. This volume should reach 175 Zo in 2025. Faced with this dizzying growth in data, current media (optical, magnetic tapes or hard disks) seem to have reached their limits: fragile, they have a life expectancy of 5 to 7 years; Energy-intensive, the data centers that host them now consume nearly 2% of global electricity production; voluminous, finally, because the surface occupied by these infrastructures is also constantly increasing: 167 km2 worldwide.

Left: Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. Extract from the minutes of the sitting of the Constituent Assembly of October 2, 1789 and note from the hand of King Louis XVI of October 5, 1789. Right: first page of the brochure “Les droits de la femme” in which is published the Declaration of the rights of women and citizens, by Olympe de Gouges, September 1791.

Now, with lboomartificial intelligence and theWith the advent of big data, the demand for bytes is not about to decrease. ” When it comes to storing generated data, we’ve been living on credit for a few years. If today we are able to store 30%, without technological disruption, this figure could drop to 3% in the coming decades. », Warns Stéphane Lemaire, researcher at the Computational and Quantitative Biology Laboratory. Yet, stored on DNA, theentire global data could fit in the volume ofa shoebox. DNA would thus constitute a envisaged and conceivable solution for so-called cold data (around 70% of the data generated each year), rarely consulted but nevertheless valuable, such as archives.

The biological track

Lidea ofuse lDNA as a carrierdigital information nis not new: as early as 1959, the American physicist Richard Feynman, Nobel Prize winner in 1965, had already suggested it. But this nthat isin 2012 that this became a reality. ” However, current storage technologies are all based on chemical, physical and mathematical methods; the biological track nhad not yet been explored », Emphasizes Stéphane Lemaire.

Lhe current storage technologies are all based on chemical, physical and mathematical methods; the biological track nhad not yet been explored.

For three years, the biologist has worked with Pierre Crozet, lecturer at Sorbonne University, on the development ofa new technology called DNA Drive. The idea: to use the mechanisms inherited from biology to easily edit and copy data on large fragments ofDNA. Their project, “The Revolution of theDNA ”, also involving historians, philosophers, computer scientists and archivists, was born in 2018. It all started with an article on DNA storage technology, published in the journal dan inter-university student association, Alma Mater.

Challenged by the students, Stéphane Lemaire srelies on the molecular biology skills of his team to encodeDNA information.

Capsules containing the two texts encoded on DNA.

But not just any information. As a proof of concept, their choice fell on two texts with strong symbolic and historical values: the Declaration of the Rights of theman and citizen, and the Declaration of the Rights of Women and the Citizen of Olympe de Gouge. Their stated ambition: to solve the question of the storage ofinformation and its sustainability through a process that is more ecological, economical and accessible to all.

DNA Drive: a bio-inspired, bio-compatible, bio-secure technology

The process is simple: the binary digital data (0 or 1) is transformed into quaternary data (the four nucleotides of DNA: A, T, CG where A = C = 0 and T = G = 1 for a code at 1 bit / base).

The reading of the information can be done with sequencers ofNomadic DNA that is now the size of a USB key.

The data conversion is ensured by an algorithm allowing to generate DNA sequences in DNA Drive format. ” The sequence is then stored, as in living things, on long fragments ofDNA double helix, called plasmids or chromosomes », explains Stéphane Lemaire. The molecules ofDNA Drive are designed to be manipulated by cells, such as bacteria, which have the ability to copy or edit the DNA.information thus encoded.

They are also bio-secured so that theDNA does not carry any biologically significant genetic information. ” Finally, the reading of the information can be carried out, as for the oligonucleotides, with sequencers ofNomadic DNA that is now the size of a USB key », Adds the researcher.

Each capsule can contain an amount of DNA corresponding to 5000 TB of digital data.

Encoding takes several days; decoding, several hours. The DNA Drive is an eco-responsible storage solution: durable, ecological, and ultra-compact, it can be stored for millennia in metal capsules protected from water, air and light without input. energetic.

Building on their momentum, Stéphane Lemaire and Pierre Crozet created in 2021 a start-up, Biomemory, with a digital entrepreneur, Erfane Arwani. ” But we still have many challenges to overcome, emphasizes Pierre Crozet. We will now work to perfect our technology, benefiting from the improvements that will be made in both DNA synthesis and sequencing to reduce costs. The goal is for the DNA Drive to be viable and usable in data centers by 2030. »

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Data storage: the promises ofSynthetic DNA

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