Monday, April 10, 2017

Data on DNA

Within the past couple decades, technology advances have continued to progress at an unimaginable pace. Although these advances are quite amazing, the sad truth is that computer-memory technologies have not been able to stay in stride with both the technological advances and the abundant use of technology by society. How then are we expecting to store 4 trillion DVDs worth of data in 2017?

One of the answers may lie in the hands of Dr. Karin Strauss, whose team thinks that the future of data storage has been within us all along. Dr. Strauss obtained her PhD in computer sciences from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and is now working for both the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at University of Washington as well as being a researcher in Computer Architecture at Microsoft Research. There, she is a member of a team that is working to store digital data using DNA. The structure of DNA is very compact and stable. Additionally, if this project becomes a full success, DNA could have a lifespan that is 100 times longer than digital tape 

Because Dr. Strauss is an expert in the field of computer science and not biology it seems illogical that she would be the face of the project. However, collaboration is the key to the progress and future success of using DNA to store data. Strauss works with other leading computer scientists and molecular biologists at Microsoft Research, University of Washington, and other universities in order to continue and enhance their own creative processes. This is a prime example of a medium Q network. Each scientist involved in the project is connected to the others through their collaboration and their sharing of ideas. However, they also are able to digress to their own labs to work on and develop their individual portions of the project to once again bring to the group. The ties are not loose nor are they bound to work constantly with each other. This enables them to maximize their creativity by working on their own with the input and critique of their peers from project meetings.


It is truly fascinating to think that the secret of life could soon be the secret to storing massive amounts of information in a stable and compact manner. It is even more remarkable that the leader of this project is a wonderful underrepresented member in the STEM field. Dr. Karin Strauss truly gives women a remarkable name in science and deserves to have been recognized as the 16th most creative person from 2016.

Uzzi, B., & Spiro, J. (2005). Collaboration and creativity: The small world problem. AJS, 111(2), 447–504.


  1. This idea fascinates me for two reasons. First, it is an interesting attempt at replicating the most creative thing out there, Mother Nature. Secondly, it highlights the astounding capabilities of people through collaboration. Specifically on the collaboration, it allows people from specialized fields to utilize the idea we talked about previously, collecting. I wonder how the implementation of ideas across these fields sparked new trains of thought that has helped progress the project. Either way, Dr. Strauss and her team’s work is no doubt unique and will definitely have an impact on the field.

  2. I love that you pointed out the collaboration involved in this process. I think that people often undermine the power of well-thought-out groups, and how a team that works together goes farther than an individual out to make a name for themself. I agree with Patrick's comment on the importance of collaborating across fields. It would definitely be interesting to see how implementation of this collaboration-across-fields process could enhance creative, scientific and technological advancement.

  3. I find this research a bit ironic and comical. Computational power and storage is considered one of the largest bottlenecks in genetic research, and here one solution is the use of said genetics to boost computational storage. It definitely is super creative as it goes beyond the idea of mechanical storage and computation to one that is based in biology and chemistry echoing the ideas of quantum computing. I was actually reminded of a project that I read a year or two ago about a project done at Harvard where they stored a book in DNA through the transference of digital bit code to genomic code. I think the rate of storage was around ~2bits per nucleotide, and considering that a single strand contains millions-billions it offers a great opportunity to hack into nature.

  4. I think it's amazing that Strauss was able to use collaboration to create something like this. I feel like biology is complex, and that without proper understanding creating something on this intellectual level would be difficult. I think the concept of the invention is really interesting, and I would like to know more about how DNA would be used as storage. Something I'm also interested to know is her inspiration behind using DNA. Without a biology background, I'm curious to see what led to this discovery.


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