Emily Leproust

Emily Leproust

Time is now to use DNA to store data

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By Emily Leproust

Humanity generates 2.5 quintillion bytes of data — enough to max out the storage capacity of about 40 million iPhones — every day. Much of it gets stored “in the cloud,” meaning it’s saved in sprawling, frigid data centers.

Unfortunately, these data centers are contributing to the destruction of the environment. They account for as much as 1.5% of the world’s total annual electricity consumption — and are responsible for emitting more than 200 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, on par with the annual emissions from all commercial air travel in the entire United States.

With the total quantity of data created doubling every two years, the problem is poised to get much worse. To keep pace with how much data we’re creating, the entire surface of the planet would need to be covered with data storage centers by 2060.

Emily Leproust 2

Emily Leproust

Many companies and environmentalists have long recognized the ecological harm of our data-storage addiction. Data centers use a staggering volume of water, about 3-5 million gallons per day. That’s enough for a small city of 30,000-50,000 people, according to Texas Tech University professor Venkatesh Uddameri.

They also demand large amounts of rare earth minerals to construct their hardware. The mining process to extract those minerals is notoriously awful for the environment.

Companies can make these data centers less damaging — but they can’t actually make them green. The world’s voracious appetite for data is quickly canceling out any marginal improvements. For example, data centers are on track to account for 14% of all global emissions by 2040. That’s equivalent to what the entire United States currently emits.

The real solution lies in completely rethinking how we store data.

Instead of storing it electronically, scientists are optimistic that we could soon encode data into strands of DNA, a vastly more powerful medium, on a massive scale.

DNA is orders of magnitude more efficient at storing information than any existing method. A single gram of DNA can store up to 215 million gigabytes of information; that’s equivalent to roughly 10 million copies of the entirety of Wikipedia. In theory, if DNA were used to its full potential, all of the world’s data could be stored in the bed of a semi-truck.

At Twist Bioscience, the company I lead, we developed a transformational process to “write” data onto small silicon chips using DNA. Our scientists recently stored a Netflix original series in synthetic DNA. More recently, researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology, in collaboration with our team, discovered a way to increase the efficiency of current DNA data storage methods by a factor of 100.

Unlike servers in data centers, DNA-based storage methods are environmentally friendly. Once the information is converted into DNA, it consumes zero energy. That data also lasts much longer; while conventional magnetic hard drives wear out and need to be replaced every decade or so, data that’s been encoded in DNA could theoretically last for more than 500,000 years.

Our civilization is producing more data than ever. Without new approaches, data storage threatens to worsen environmental crises and spawn new ones. With hundreds of millions of new internet users added every year, the urgency couldn’t be greater. Approaches like DNA-based storage can help leverage the full promise and potential of the Information Age without sacrificing the planet’s health.

Emily Leproust is CEO and co-founder of Twist Bioscience. This piece originally ran in RealClearScience.

Local News

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Tri-State lane closures start Monday as area ramps prepare to reopen

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Spread the loveOvernight lane closures are scheduled next week to shift traffic on Interstate 55 and on the northbound Tri-State Tollway (Interstate 294) between Willow Springs Road and Plainfield Road and reopen the ramp connecting northbound I-294 to southbound I-55 and Wolf Road. On Monday, February 6, beginning at 9 p.m. and continuing until 5…

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new lane configuration 2-6-23

Tri-State lane closures start Monday as area ramps prepare to reopen

Spread the love

Spread the loveOvernight lane closures are scheduled next week to shift traffic on Interstate 55 and on the northbound Tri-State Tollway (Interstate 294) between Willow Springs Road and Plainfield Road and reopen the ramp connecting northbound I-294 to southbound I-55 and Wolf Road. On Monday, February 6, beginning at 9 p.m. and continuing until 5…

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Spread the love

Spread the loveRamzi Hassan of Edwards Realty Company was installed last week as president of the Orland Park Area Chamber of Commerce. The 2023 board of directors was also installed and annual membership awards were handed out during ceremonies last Thursday at the Crystal Tree Country Club. Installation duties were performed by Orland Park Mayor…

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Spread the love

Spread the loveBy Joe Boyle An acorn may be the symbol that inspires the Oak Lawn community to unleash its artistic talents. The first official session of the Acorn to Oak Studios will be presented from noon to 3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 5, in the north wing of the Pilgrim Faith Church campus, 9411 S.…

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EPCHS names Matthew Dugan next principal

Spread the love

Spread the loveFrom staff reports Evergreen Park Community High School has hired Matthew Dugan as its next principal. Dugan’s appointment was made official during the January 24 meeting of the Evergreen Park Community High School Board of Education. Dugan will become principal on July 1, upon the retirement of current Principal Bill Sanderson. “I am…

Willow Springs resident Jim Distasio was the first speaker to criticize the proposed land sale for use as an industrial park. (Photos by Steve Metsch)

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Spread the love

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Children enjoying themselves at Flying High in Countryside on January 14. (Supplied photo)

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Spread the love

Spread the loveBy Carol McGowan Twenty-three adults and 30 children of Venezuelan families seeking asylum enjoyed a fun night out on January 14 courtesy of Flying High in Countryside. The event was a collaboration between St. Cletus Church in LaGrange, and Flying High, at 5400 East Avenue in Countryside. Flying High opened their gym doors…

All that's left of Georgis Catering is a burned out shell. To the right, is mom and Dad's Deli, which suffered smoke and water damage. (Photo by Carol McGowan)

Georgis Catering owner vows to rebuild after fire

Spread the love

Spread the loveBy Bob Bong Georgis Catering owner Buz Georgis is maintaining an upbeat outlook despite the destruction of his business in an early-morning fire Friday at 63rd Place and Central Avenue in Chicago’s Clearing neighborhood. “It’s been a pretty crazy week,” he said Monday. “But we are moving forward and we plan on being…

dvn beds plus soup1 2023

BEDS Plus Soup & Bread event to raise money to assist the homeless

Spread the love

Spread the love By Steve Metsch One way to warm up on a cold winter’s day is with a bowl of soup. And on Sunday, soup lovers can sample 20 different soups and also get the warm feeling received by helping a local charitable organization. BEDS Plus, which helps the homeless through the southwest suburbs,…

District 230 board member Dave O'Connor urges Sandburg parents to consider having their students take dual credit courses to save college tuition money at the Jan. 26 meeting. (Photo by Jeff Vorva)

Sandburg/MVCC dual courses could save plenty of money

Spread the love

Spread the loveBy Jeff Vorva The price of college tuition keeps going up and shows no sign of ever going down. Thus, District 230 Board Member Dave O’Connor is urging Sandburg parents with college-bound students to take a long look at the school’s dual credit program with Moraine Valley. “We get students here who will…

Cubework has purchased the former Sears propertry at Orland Square Mall. (Photo by Bob Bong)

Cubework to turn Orland Park Sears site into Coworking Mall

Spread the love

Spread the loveBy Bob Bong That vast empty space at Orland Square Mall that was once the home of retail giant Sears may be getting new life. California-based Cubework has purchased the former Sears property at Orland Square Mall and is marketing the former mall anchor store as a Coworking Mall. The 16-acre purchase includes…

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