Microsoft has given the green light for the acquisition of 10 million strands of DNA from Twist Bioscience, which the company plans to use to encode digital data. Twist Bioscience, a San Francisco-based forensic startup that manufactures storage-ready DNA, claims that DNA storage has a “known shelf life of several thousand years.” This is in comparison to other storage media which have a definite shelf life, and must be periodically encoded.

The rate of data output is increasing exponentially, with the need for a reliable means of long-term, secure storage, according to Doug Carmean, a Microsoft partner architect within the company’s Technology and Research Organization.

“The initial test phase with Twist demonstrated that we could encode and recover 100 percent of the digital data from synthetic DNA,” said Carmean. “We’re still years away from a commercially- viable product, but our early tests with Twist demonstrate that in the future we’ll be able to substantially increase the density and durability of data storage,” he added.

DNA data storage could last up to 2,000 years without deterioration according to a recent presentation at the American Chemical Society. Using DNA as an archival technology limited lifespan and low data density, two key limitations of traditional digital storage media. Another drawing point is the sheer amount of data which can be stored in DNA.  A single gram of DNA can store almost one trillion gigabytes (almost a zettabyte) of digital data.

Initial trials with Twist have shown that the technology allowed full retrieval of the encoded data from the DNA, according to Microsoft, although the cost is currently not cheap.