Evonetix has been granted a patent for its novel method of DNA data storage and retrieval.
The Cambridge synthetic biology company described it as a “major milestone”, confirming that its technology has overcome one of the major hurdles of using DNA for data storage.
There is huge potential and much excitement around the idea of DNA as a long-term data storage medium as it offers far greater information density than traditional magnetic tape-based storage.
While current data centres can be the size of several football pitches, it has been suggested that a year’s worth of the world’s data storage needs could be met in a one-metre cube of DNA. That’s because a single base or nucleotide of DNA, equivalent to up to two bits, is about one cubic nanometer (a billionth of a metre). It is also very stable as a storage medium.
But the concept comes with some significant challenges. Reading and writing to DNA, its storage and access are all complex, creating major cost barriers.
Evonetix – winner of Life Science Company of the Year at the 2020-21 Cambridge Independent Science and Technology Awards – has an ingenious DNA-on-chip platform that overcomes one of these major challenges.
It enables non-destructive data retrieval from its chip surfaces, using tens of thousands of individually controlled ‘virtual wells’.
These enable either de-novo DNA synthesis – in other words, the actual creation of deoxyribonucleic acid molecules – or the immobilisation of pre-synthesised DNA for storage in-situ until data retrieval is required.
Today, data is all stored in 0 and 1s. But DNA has four bases – A, G, C, T. A conversion algorithm enables the 0s and 1s to be converted into the right sequence of bases.
And each virtual well on Evonetix’s chips can retain tens of millions of DNA strands.
Dr Matt Hayes, chief technology officer at the Coldhams Business Park company, said: “With DNA data storage forecast to grow rapidly in the next decade, and an increasing move towards digitisation, this patent is a major milestone for Evonetix.”
But how is the DNA read?
Individual sequences can then be read through thermal cycling of individual virtual wells. This melts the DNA stored there and enables polymerase-based amplification of the single stranded DNA remaining on the site.
Sub-populations are individually “read” through use different amplification primers.
The amplified DNA is then released into solution for collection and downstream sequencing, while a final primer extension step restores the DNA to its original double stranded format for ongoing storage.
This enables high density storage with what Evonetix describe as “a simple, non-destructive, read method”.
It is an extraordinary achievement – and could prove revolutionary – yet this is not even the primary driver for Evonetix, which expects to facilitate a paradigm shift in gene synthesis with its highly parallel desktop platform.
This, it says, will synthesise DNA at unprecedented accuracy and scale, putting the ability to create DNA in the hands of every researcher and change how it is accessed, made and used.
The synthetic biology revolution is beginning, with chemical processes set to be replaced with biological ones, enabling better use of the Earth’s resources. Renewable biological feedstocks, for example, could be used to create the things that are today made using oil.
“Accurate DNA synthesis has a multitude of applications, and we’re extremely pleased to enable data storage solutions in addition to our core focus on synthetic biology,” said Dr Hayes.
“Our growing patent portfolio underlines our strategy to create shareholder value, ensuring that we have freedom to operate in key markets.”
Look out for the launch of the 2021-22 Cambridge Independent Science and Technology Awards – coming soon.
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