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New way to store data on DNA reduces losses

DNA storage is astonishing when it comes to data density
(photo: CC0 Public Domain)

Sfoodation of data on DNA in small capsules will help researchers in this field to decreasedeat the error rate and will predisgust hloss of information. Pthe proposed technicalology pallows reading up to 25 files simultaneouslyupon loss of 0.3% of the file after three reads, relative to 35% with existing methods.

DNA storage is an amazingly natural solution in terms of data density. All the information on the internet could be written on DNA in the volume of a shoebox. Scientists have been trying to do this for a long time and have already had some success.

Using only four naturally occurring nitrogen bases to encode data in DNA, 215 PB of data can be stored in the volume of a shoebox. But if we synthesize artificial nitrogen bases and bring them to 11 base codes, then the amount of data stored in the “box” can be doubled, notes NewAtlas in the description of a new development.

With the right approach, this information can be stored for millions of years, unlike data on hard drives and SSDs. Someday this will happen, but for now, researchers are trying to solve a number of problems related to the DNA record. In particular, this is the problem of data destruction during multiple accesses and, as a consequence, an increase in errors and data loss.

In a new paper published in the scientific journal Nature, a group of researchers propose an interesting technique for protecting and labeling the DNA information carrier. The technology protects the media from destruction during reading, facilitates sorting of DNA files, and enables the creation of robotic libraries.

The main process for working with information recorded on DNA occurs as follows: a “primer” is fed into the “soup” of DNA carriers, which starts a PCR reaction (polymerase chain reaction) with replication of the desired “file”. Each “file” is a recorded DNA strand, labeled in a certain way, and the primer sticks to it and starts the replication process.

Modern DNA decoding tools need millions of identical sequences to reliably decipher a single “file”. Any such “reading” introduces errors and eventually destroys the information. This makes it difficult to work with multiple “files” at the same time.

DNA microcapsules labeled with fluorescent labels under a microscope
(photo: Tom de Greef)

To avoid all this, scientists close the DNA file in a polymer capsule, but by heating it to a temperature above 50°C. PCR starts at a lower temperature, then when heated, the original “file” hides in a capsule and the process continues without it. This allows to protect the original data during reading (replication) and also to assign a label to each “file” – in this case it is fluorescence with different shades.

“Glowing” makes it possible to robotize the cataloging and subsequent selection of files – this is the way to create libraries. To read the replicated DNA, it is sufficient to cool the system and isolate from it everything that was reproduced during the PCR process. Thus, the original DNA carrier remains unaffected by the PCR process, without errors in its structure and retaining the color mark by which it can be sorted.

According to the researchers, the proposed technique allows reading up to 25 files simultaneously with only 0.3% file loss after three reads, while existing methods have a loss of 35%.

“Now we just have to wait for the cost of DNA synthesis to drop even more,” said Tom de Greef, lead author of the study. “Then the equipment will be ready for use.”

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