European Union-funded project lifts digital data storage to a new level

One of the ultimate technologies that researchers are examining to offer effective and inexpensive alternatives for data storage in the future is DNA digital data storage. The European-funded project DNA-FAIRYLIGHTS targets synergies of this bioinspired technology with nanomaterial science to adorn DNA sequences with colorful nano-lights to facilitate rapid read/write processes and new data encoding concepts.


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The project is directed by Roman Krahne and Denis Garoli, Principal Investigator and Senior Researcher at the Optoelectronics group at the Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia (Italian Institute of Technology-IIT) in Genova, Italy.

An interdisciplinary team of top scientists from Spain, Italy, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, and Switzerland is involved in the project. The project was funded by the European Union under the Horizon 2020 framework program with 3.1 million euros for the next three years.

Society was generating an advancing amount of data that skyrocket quickly. Digital data is stored as bits—a series of ones and zeros. Each individual produces multiple billions of such data bits which are to be stored on devices like smartwatches, mobile phones, computers, tablets.

For a sustainable society, smart, new, and energy-efficient technologies to store data with a small footprint are foremost. And, nature provides a robust solution—DNA, where the information defining organisms is encoded in unique sequences of four bases (A, T, C, G).

Employing DNA molecules as information carriers in modern technologies facilitates unparalleled long-term stability, high storage density, and low fabrication costs.

But to uncover the potential of DNA data storage certain major obstacles are to be overcome like the inability for rapid reconfiguration that is at the base for reading/write processes, the current slow reading of the DNA sequence, and the expensive ex-nuovo fabrication of the targeted DNA sequence by enzymatic synthesis.

The DNA-FAIRYLIGHTS project intends to elevate the digital data storage to a new level by increasing the binary zero/one concept to the wide spectrum of distinct colors, where multiple colors integrated into the DNA sequence encode information more compactly.

The major idea is to adorn the DNA sequence with numerous ultrasmall nanoparticles that have various colors. These sequences are read with optical technologies that are quicker than electrical ones, and also more energy-efficient as they disperse a low amount of heat.

The unique recognition ability of single DNA strands would be utilized both for defining the sequence, that is encoding the data, and for sequence reconfiguration that enables to change and re-write the data.

The project would develop novel nanomaterials for light encoding, generate novel algorithms for data storage beyond the binary zero/one level, design advanced reader devices, and create the resources for science tech industries of the future.


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