Turning DNA into data

Twist Bioscience selected as DNA synthesis provider for DNA data storage project

January 14, 2020
DDNews Staff
SAN FRANCISCO—Twist Bioscience Corporation announced today that the company has been selected as a subcontractor to Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) to undertake the DNA synthesis portion of the Molecular Information Storage (MIST) program, through a contract with the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA).
 
DNA has the ability to store large amounts of data over long periods of time in a very dense format, but this storage technology is neither cost efficient nor widely available. The aim of the project, called Scalable Molecular Archival Software & Hardware (SMASH), is to make long-term DNA data storage both accessible and commercially viable within the next three to five years.
 
“With digital data growing at an exponential rate, there is increasing interest and excitement about using nature’s storage medium, DNA, to store digital data,” said Emily M. Leproust, Ph.D., CEO and co-founder of Twist Bioscience. “With the government’s commitment to fund this exciting new area of storage, we believe that as part of this consortium of specialists, we can truly revolutionize the DNA synthesis process, and reduce the cost of synthesis for DNA data storage by many orders of magnitude.”
 
Twist Bioscience may receive up to $9.15 million in fees under the multi-phase contract awarded to GTRI, which is worth up to $25 million. Twist is contracted to create a DNA synthesis platform on silicon that synthesizes enough DNA per day to allow the cost of storing digital data to be as low as $1 per gigabyte. Twist estimates that they will reduce the cost of DNA data storage by approximately six to seven orders of magnitude.
 
 Twist manufactures more than a million oligonucleotides onto a single silicon chip using semiconductor technology. The company is now working toward the next generation of silicon chips that will allow the company to synthesize or write 10 gigabytes of DNA on each silicon chip.
 
In addition to the $9.15 million earmarked for Twist, there is an additional $5.5 million for bolstering DNA synthesis through new chip design, with standard CMOS electronics capable of writing DNA using the efficiencies of current semiconductor technologies. This research will be conducted at GTRI, and will then go to Twist for commercial implementation.
 
“Fifty years ago, DNA data storage was considered science fiction – today, it is science with a path toward broad implementation. We expect in the next three to five years, with the proper amount of government and industry investment, it will become a reality for long-term storage,” Leproust predicted. “We see the first applications of commercial DNA data storage being long-term markets where current storage is not meeting the needs of the industry. This includes enterprise, where governing bodies require that the retention of large volumes of data for a particular project like a clinical trial or airplane design be kept for decades, government bodies, which retain vast amounts of historical information, and the consumer market for large archives of photos and videos.”
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