DNA computing and storage: toward decarbonized hybrid computing

Yesterday’s deluge is here

About a decade ago the term “data deluge” was popularized, referring to the exponential increase of digital data and the huge efforts that would be required to store and process it in the future. Well, that future is now, and the trend is nowhere near stopping. There is a growing gap between our capacity to create data and our capacity to store, preserve and compute it efficiently. Many organizations end up discarding a lot of useful data because they are not able to generate useful insights from it at the necessary speed.

DNA to the rescue

DNA-based storage and computing is recognized as one of the top disruptive technologies for data. It could maximize the insights and value obtained from data, enabling much higher societal and business impact. Atos is closely monitoring the development of this rapidly advancing technology.

We anticipate that future breakthroughs in this technology will result in much higher throughput, scalability and cost effectiveness. These will be steps toward DNA-enabled decarbonized hybrid computing, a powerful alternative to today’s carbon intensive technologies.

DNA-based storage and computing is recognized as one of the top disruptive technologies for data. It could maximize the insights and value obtained from data, enabling much higher societal and business impact.

In May 2021, DNA storage was mentioned in the European roadmap for Industrial data, Cloud and Edge published by the European Commission1 and to which Atos contributed. In June 2021, it was highlighted by Industry analyst Gartner among the top 10 foreseeable technology trends2. In July of 2021, the Atos Scientific Community published a position paper on DNA storage and computing, in which we advised our customers to consider this technology in their digital agendas. On November 18th we had the pleasure to welcome Hyunjun Park, co-founder and CEO of CATALOG, for our third Scientific Moonshot: Can Biology be the answer to achieving Decarbonization for digital? Below are the main take aways.

What does DNA offer?

DNA-based storage and computing has enormous potential in terms of storage density, stability, replication and readability of information. Density is essential because storing data takes up a lot of space, which DNA can reduce by a factor of a million. Stability is critical for long-term preservation: where current technology can only guarantee a few decades, DNA stored data can potentially stay stable for millennia. High-speed error-free replication and readability are key for data effective data transfers and computing – for being able to extract all the value from this data. Alongside this, the computational space faces problems of energy consumption. Conventional computing architecture causes a lot of heat to be generated, so modern computing is not limited by the speed of processors but by heat dissipation. We are looking to address this crucial problem using DNA because once you store data in DNA, it no longer takes any power to retain that information.

It’s synthetic DNA we’re talking about

When we talk about DNA in the context of digital data, we don't mean the biological DNA obtained from cells. Some people hear about DNA storage and computing and ask: “whose DNA are you using?” The answer is: nobody’s; it's synthetic DNA obtained in a lab. Synthetic DNA is identical to biological DNA in the sense that the enzymes that act on biological molecules can be readily adapted to act on synthetic DNA molecules. Therefore, synthetic DNA has all the interesting characteristics we listed above: information density, stability, replication and readability. We are taking advantage of something that Nature has developed biologically for 3.5 billion years and applying it synthetically to digital data.

Toward decarbonized hybrid computing

Atos and CATALOG share the vision of decarbonized hybrid computing: a scenario in which some computing will still be conducted with current technology, some other computing will be vastly accelerated with quantum technology and other computing will be performed in a highly parallelized manner for a fraction of today’s energy consumption – in a decarbonized way – thanks to DNA. Once you have written information into DNA, you can copy it millions of times, for a very low price, in a very short time. This will enable entirely new applications and business models. Using enzymes, you can change the state of the molecules that store your data, effectively computing on those data. Then, you just have to sequence back out those low-volume results. All this happens in a massively parallel fashion and takes extremely low power. In certain cases, DNA can free us from the limitation of current computing: the high energy consumption and its negative impact on the environment. Our body has 30 trillion cells, each of them making thousands of computations and decisions per second, and it doesn't take a lot of energy. Even if you treat yourself to an extra snack, it's much less energy than a car or computer takes!

How can your business prepare for DNA storage and computing?

If your organization deals with large amounts of data, if you have to preserve data for long periods of time, if you need to quickly process vast amounts of data or if you are throwing data away because you’re not capable of dealing with it (in batch or real time), you will be able to benefit from this technology. It is applicable to all sectors: media, pharma, public sector, finance, etc.

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About Philippe Mareine
Chief Digital and Transformation Officer and Head of CSR
Prior to his current position, he was Deputy Manager in the French Treasury department’s Inspection Générale des Finances unit and, previously, he was in charge of Human Resources in the Public Accounts department of the French Ministry for the Budget. From 2005 to 2007, he was technical adviser in charge of employee relations and reform in the office of the French Minister of the Economy, Finance and Industry. He held several managerial positions at the French Tax Administration. He joined Atos in 2009 as General Secretary of the Board of Directors in charge of legal functions, compliance, audit, security and social responsibility policy. He was Head of Human Resources. He is today Head of Siemens Global Alliance and Chief Digital & Transformation Officer. Mr Mareine is also in charge of Group CSR. He is a graduate from the Ecole Polytechnique and Ecole Nationale d’Administration.

About Hyunjun Park
co-founder and CEO of CATALOG
Hyunjun is passionate about using biology to address complex challenges. As co-founder and CEO of Catalog, he is leading the effort to handle the explosion of digital information, using cutting edge tools of synthetic biology. Hyunjun obtained his BS at Seoul National University, PhD in microbiology at the University of Wisconsin Madison, and conducted postdoctoral research at MIT.