US spy agencies want to store data on DNA-based computers

blue double-helix models in the background (from2015) (Credit: iStock)


The government’s intelligence services have a plan to build computers that store information in DNA and other organic molecules.

Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA), a group within the Office of the Director of National Intelligence develops technologies for the U.S. intelligence services, announced plans to develop “table-top”-sized machines that can store and retrieve data from large amounts of polymers — a term that refers to a wide range of long, stringlike molecules. Polymers can store data in the order of the individual atoms or groups of atoms.

The project, which was reported by Nextgov, is an attempt to solve a fundamental problem of the modern era: the large and growing costs of the storage of data. Data centers around the world being sucked into 416.2 terawatt hours of electricity in 2016. That is about 3 percent of global supply, according to a report in the Independent, and it is good for 2 percent of global emissions of greenhouse gases. Experts told the Independent that the world can’t sustain the exponential growth of global data center growth.

A 2016 paper in the journal BioMed Research International found that DNA, in particular, would be able to save the computer information more densely, consume less energy, and survival of higher and lower temperatures than conventional hard drives. The authors of that paper reported on the successes of the prototype DNA-based computers that the genetic molecules for both the long-term storage and random access memory (RAM). [Humanoid Robots to Flying Cars: 10 Coolest DARPA Projects]

But no one has yet figured out how the implementation of DNA-data-storage on a large scale.

IARPA officials said the new effort, the so-called Molecular Storage of Information, will be divided in three pieces: a two-year program to figure out how to store data in DNA or other molecules at high speeds, for a two-year program to figure out how to retrieve that data at high speeds, and a two-year effort to develop an operating system that is on that DNA.

Many of the technologies IARPA wants to develop, have not been tested on this scale, so it is unclear how far the proposed “table top device really is.

Originally published on Live Science.


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