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DNA Knowledge Storage: A Answer On the lookout for a Downside?

Many moons in the past, famed enterprise capitalist Marc Andreessen described the time period “product-market match” as “being in a superb market with a product that may fulfill that market.” To show that you’ve got product-market match, simply promote a significant quantity of your product and repair to finish clients – no subsidies, no free trials counted as revenues, no grants, and no associated occasion revenues. Each time an thrilling new know-how guarantees the moon, we at all times need to see product-market match earlier than investing. We don’t put money into tales, we put money into traction. That’s why when Twist Biosciences (TWST) guarantees their traders that DNA knowledge storage is across the nook, we wished to take a better have a look at the thesis.

DNA Knowledge Storage Defined

All knowledge is made up of 1s and 0s. All DNA is made up of As, Ts, Cs, and Gs. Put that method, it will make sense that if the 1s and 0s will be transformed to ATCGs, then knowledge might be saved on strands of DNA. So, is it attainable? Sure. Nevertheless, it’s not precisely that easy.

DNA Knowledge Storage Move Chart from Micron

To retailer knowledge on DNA, the specified info first must be mapped onto the 4 nucleotides (the As, Ts, Cs, and Gs) of DNA. That is executed utilizing a DNA synthesizer. Whereas this synthesizer won’t assist Paul McCartney create a pop Christmas hit, it’s totally very important to the info conversion course of. Its major function is to hitch nucleotides in a particular order to construct DNA molecules. In brief, it creates a “synthesized” strand of DNA. The nucleotides are chemically modified to permit them to suit snugly and simply onto the DNA chain. As soon as that is full, the DNA will be “purified” (separated from different mobile parts) making it prepared for knowledge storage. That is the place corporations like Twist Bioscience slot in. Twist specializes within the DNA synthesis course of, serving to to make DNA storage a actuality.

Some Key Opponents

Whereas a number of corporations are actively making strides within the DNA knowledge cupboard space, Twist Bioscience boasts the power to retailer as much as 215 petabytes of information in a single gram of DNA. For perspective, a single petabyte might retailer over 13 years of HD video footage. This implies Twist might retailer 28 centuries of HD video in a single gram of DNA. The most recent from the corporate is that they’re engaged on a Proof of Concept (POC) ship and a tool that permits knowledge to be written to DNA.

Credit score: Twist Bioscience

Early entry is predicted to occur earlier than the top of this yr, although it’s unclear how mature the product providing might be by then.

Based in 2016, Catalog Applied sciences boasts traders reminiscent of Baidu, a Chinese language know-how conglomerate, and Horizons Ventures, a Hong Kong-based VC agency specializing in disruptive know-how startups. Catalog secured $35 million in Sequence B funding in late 2021, bringing their complete funding to $55 million. Whereas their platform “solely” has the capability to retailer one terabyte (1,000 gigabytes) of information per gram of DNA, Catalog’s benefit is that they’ve constructed a extremely scalable and safe platform for knowledge storage. Basically, they’re taking a distinct method in specializing in practicality versus capability. They haven’t introduced a timeline for industrial availability of their DNA knowledge storage providing and their web site doesn’t provide an excessive amount of confidence, claiming “the thought of storing info utilizing DNA has been round for some time. It’s simply that the price of DNA synthesis has been a bottle neck.”

Shocked to see this one on the record? We’re too. Nonetheless, Microsoft can be on the forefront of the DNA knowledge storage trade, with a purpose of constructing it extra sensible and accessible for a variety of customers and functions. Their most important contribution to the sphere is the event of a completely automated system for DNA synthesis and coding, in partnership with Twist and Illumina amongst others. Dubbed the DNA Synthesis Platform (no creativity factors right here), it might encode massive quantities of information in a single run. Microsoft can be creating a specialised algorithm for encoding and decoding DNA knowledge, which follows a linear course of detailed under.

DNA Encoding and Decoding Move Chart by way of Microsoft

Whereas these corporations speak about progress being made in the direction of commercialization, one firm claims to have already achieved commercialization.

In April of final yr, international biotechnology group GenScript (1548.HK) introduced the “first industrial platform for DNA digital knowledge storage” which was validated by researchers who encoded “100 Mb of combined knowledge varieties within the DNA to check the Excessive-Density DNA Synthesis Chip’s storage utility and retrieved 100% of the encoded knowledge with no loss.” The press launch asserting the product providing stated that it will be “absolutely commercially accessible within the second half of 2022” and that they’re “actively looking for members for a partnership program to increase the applicability of the info storage platform.” No point out was made from whether or not this resolution can compete on value. If it might’t, then it’s arduous to see why anybody would need to interact with their partnership program.

Competing on Value

DNA knowledge storage isn’t addressing a blue ocean total addressable market (TAM). It must displace present options, specifically magnetic tape storage, which is among the oldest applied sciences accessible for digital knowledge storage. Whereas different storage applied sciences like solid-state drives have gotten in style for major storage and knowledge processing, many organizations proceed to make use of tape storage merchandise as half of a bigger knowledge administration technique.

Magnetic tapes have been offering a high-capacity, low-cost resolution for archival knowledge storage since computer systems have been first invented. The primary magnetic tape storage system was invented within the late Forties by Jack Mullin, an engineer from Santa Clara College, after observing the Nazi radio broadcasts of World Struggle II and realizing they’d a tool able to recording and reproducing sound. As a profitable electrical engineer, Mullin acknowledged the potential of this know-how and used it to create the inspiration of the magnetic tape storage we use to this present day.

An article by NetworkWorld talks about why tape storage isn’t lifeless citing value as a major issue.

Tape permits you to separate the medium from the recording gadget, which lets you purchase a handful of tape drives and hundreds of tapes. These hundreds of tapes additionally don’t want energy and cooling to take care of their knowledge. In reality, some have instructed that even when disk was free it will nonetheless value greater than tape because of the energy and cooling financial savings alone.

Credit score: NetworkWorld

That final sentence is a really highly effective one, and it must also apply to DNA knowledge storage which doesn’t want energy or cooling both (so we presume). Moreover, many don’t understand that tapes even have decrease error charges when writing knowledge than every other recording medium. “Tape is 1000X higher at writing ones and zeros than the very best disk drive,” says the article, and 10X higher than solid-state drives. However relating to retrieval, the velocity of discs simply can’t be beat.

Tapes proceed to be the dominant resolution for secondary storage use instances the place knowledge must be held for lengthy durations of time for as cheaply as attainable. The article cites leisure and biotech as two industries which might be shopping for big tape libraries and filling them with hundreds of tapes. This meshes effectively with the clientele Twist Bioscience appears to be concentrating on with their providing.

Credit score: Twist Bioscience

Alternatives for Disruption

So, what’s the benefit of utilizing DNA for knowledge storage? Whereas tape storage is the present commonplace for archival knowledge storage, it’s not with out its weaknesses. Catalog Applied sciences factors out that standard storage media “do not need the longevity, knowledge density, or value effectivity to fulfill the worldwide demand.” Since magnetic tape can solely keep intact for 30 years, underneath optimum circumstances, DNA has potential to disrupt it within the archival storage market, because the excessive density and lengthy lifespan of DNA makes it optimum for this function.

Moreover, retrieval velocity is a matter for tape storage. Tape drives have slower learn and write speeds than different storage gadgets, with high-end speeds of solely a number of hundred megabytes (MB) per second. Retrieval instances might also be affected by exterior components reminiscent of together with community bandwidth, knowledge compression, and the general complexity of the info being retrieved. This makes tape best just for knowledge that doesn’t require frequent entry or pressing retrieval, reminiscent of archiving. Within the high-performance computing market, the place the power to retailer and retrieve massive quantities of information effectively is essential, DNA could possibly get a leg up if it might discover a approach to shorten its retrieval course of, however at what value? DNA knowledge storage must compete with tapes on value, then with conventional arduous discs on velocity. Given Genscript is speaking about researchers storing and retrieving 100 megabytes efficiently, simply how distant are we from scalable economically viable DNA knowledge storage options? Or is that this only a cool know-how resolution searching for an issue to resolve?

It’s About TAM Time

Calculating TAM for DNA knowledge storage will be discovered by calculating the dimensions of the promote it’s trying to disrupt, beginning with the archival knowledge market. Twist claims archival knowledge storage is a $35 billion market, nevertheless the worldwide tape storage market was estimated at $4.3 billion in 2019, and based on Allied Market Analysis, is just anticipated to succeed in $9.4 billion by 2030. If Twist expects to disrupt solid-state and arduous disc drives, perhaps they need to begin with the low hanging fruit. Apparent bottlenecks embody value, velocity, and complexity. If DNA storage fails to grow to be aggressive with tape storage, there might be just about no TAM as a result of nobody in his proper thoughts would spend extra money to retailer knowledge in a extra advanced method. Whole value of possession wants to incorporate:

  • The price of writing the info to a DNA storage medium (must be intuitively costly)
  • The price of storing the DNA storage medium (must be zero)
  • The price of studying the info (isn’t this simply the price of sequencing)?

As of late, it prices $600 to sequence a whole genome which incorporates round 200 gigabytes of information or about $3 per gig. As we speak, magnetic tape know-how affords the bottom buy worth of uncooked storage capability at round two cents per gigabyte, says Forbes. Positive, these are tough numbers, however we’re not satisfied DNA knowledge storage may even come near competing on value anytime quickly. A key element of your entire course of, the DNA knowledge author, might be critically vital in figuring out how value efficient your entire course of might be, and Twist expects to permit early entry to this product providing later this yr.

Analysts ought to press the corporate concerning how distant these pilot merchandise are from being value aggressive. DNA knowledge storage is just a portion of Twist’s choices, however they tout it of their investor decks as the following greatest factor. The one method we’ll know they’ve developed an economically viable product is when the revenues begin to pour in.


On one hand, Genscript claims to have a commercially accessible product for DNA storage. Alternatively, they speak about the necessity to discover companions to advance their know-how. If it’s economically viable, companions must be discovering them. With the ability to retailer knowledge on DNA would possibly make for an awesome occasion trick, however we’re not satisfied that it’s an economically viable resolution that can exchange tape drives which appear to be managing simply nice. Till these corporations begin offering velocity and price metrics that show they will compete with conventional knowledge storage strategies, we’re not satisfied they’ve constructed something that’s economically viable for knowledge storage wants.

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