The Church lab started much of the scientific verse by demonstrating that it was possible to encode large amounts of information in DNA (1). This demonstration has since been followed up by a variety of both encoding and synthesis schemes, culminating recently in clever designs of a so-called DNA Fountain that “approaches the information capacity per nucleotide” (2). It still seems highly unlikely that DNA will in fact challenge silicon as an information storage medium, although it has been argued that for long-term archival purposes it is becoming cost-competitive (3) and possibly of importance for rebooting civilization after the zombie apocalypse (https://tinyurl.com/y843coby) This is amazing, as it would have seemed highly unlikely that we’d be having a conversation this advanced even a few short years ago!
What does all of this mean for the field of DNA nanotechnology? Well, first and foremost, it is a long-sought validation of the potential utility of using nucleic acids as a potential computational medium. While there are many ways that nucleic acids have been theorized and shown to compute, there have been very few examples where anyone other than granting agencies would pay for them to compute. It is possible that the field was just (way) ahead of its time, but it was also possible that this was not a path that commerce was going to trod. This is now changed, with the EBI group establishing what is one of the first start-ups that is firmly in the DNA nanotechnology space (4).
As part of the Workshop Day of DNA23 (tinyurl.com/y7t3tl6x), we hope to explore the ramifications of large scale information storage in DNA for the field of DNA nanotechnology in general. We have will hear from James Diggans as to why a DNA synthesis company (Twist Biosciences) may be interested in the business of information storage in DNA, and from one of the pioneers in the field, Sri Kosuri of UCLA, as to how new DNA assembly methods may open up further applications in this area. We will then cross over to the more theoretical portions of our community with a presentation by Reinhard Heckel of Berkeley on information storage and compression in DNA. The hope is that both the more experimental and more theoretical sides of our community can better come together during the ensuing discussion, and that we can jointly explore paths for the future that are at one and the same time broad and actionable. Overall, I hope the Workshop brings out future possibilities and provides a milestone for celebrating the growth of our community and its interests over the last 23 years!
- Church, G.M., Gao, Y. and Kosuri, S. (2012) Next-generation digital information storage in DNA. Science, 337, 1628.
- Erlich, Y. and Zielinski, D. (2017) DNA Fountain enables a robust and efficient storage architecture. Science, 355, 950-954.
- Goldman, N., Bertone, P., Chen, S.Y., Dessimoz, C., LeProust, E.M., Sipos, B. and Birney, E. (2013) Towards practical, high-capacity, low-maintenance information storage in synthesized DNA. Nature, 494, 77-80.
- Extance, A. (2016) Could the Molecule Known for Storing Genetic Information Also Store the World’s Data? Nature, 537, 22-24.