Health data storage has a climate cost. In the future data may be stored in DNA

April 02, 2024

So how do we make data storage more eco-friendly? Because research suggests that data may be encoded into DNA, Søren Brunak explains. DNA data stored underground“People have begun to design methods for data storage based on e.g. A DNA sequence can contain a lot of information, and if stored in a ‘friendly’ environment DNA can thus be an eco-friendly medium for data storage,” Søren Brunak explains. “In the future, it may cost very little to sequence a person’s DNA, and DNA-based data storage solutions could therefore prove useful.

In Denmark, we are good with health data. In fact, we are among the best in the world. But analysing and storing huge amounts of health data comes at a climate cost. 

“We have begun to consider the carbon footprint of bioinformatics and CO2 emissions resulting from data analysis,” says Professor Søren Brunak. He is a leading scientist in the field of big data and head of Disease Systems Biology at the Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Protein Research. 

One of the main problems is the substantial amounts of data we want to archive and store for possible future use. So how do we make data storage more eco-friendly? The answer may surprise you. Because research suggests that data may be encoded into DNA, Søren Brunak explains. 

DNA data stored underground

 

“People have begun to design methods for data storage based on e.g. biological materials which require no energy at all. A DNA sequence can contain a lot of information, and if stored in a ‘friendly’ environment DNA can thus be an eco-friendly medium for data storage,” Søren Brunak explains. 

We know that DNA can survive in caves and underground for thousands of years without suffering significant damage – no power required

Professor 

Søren Brunak

Such a ‘friendly’ environment for DNA storage could be an abandoned mine in a cold area or underground solutions like the ones used to store seeds. He adds: 

“And when you need the information, all you must do is sequence the DNA. For instance, some researchers have managed to encode digital information from a video into a DNA sequence and send it to researchers in a different country, who then sequenced the molecule and reproduced and watched the film on a screen.” 

Right now, this may not be the cheapest solution, but according to Søren Brunak, such data storage solutions may become easily available in the future, as the price of DNA sequencing has decreased dramatically in recent years. 

“In the future, it may cost very little to sequence a person’s DNA, and DNA-based data storage solutions could therefore prove useful. We know that DNA can survive in caves and underground for thousands of years without suffering significant damage – no power required,” Søren Brunak says. 

Efficient analysis using quantum computers?

 

We need to start considering the negative effects on the climate of using large computers for research purposes. 

“There is no doubt that people have begun to realise that analysing and storing data using computers requires energy, especially the large amounts of data used in biological and medical research, which includes genome data and clinical data from online medical records containing images and other types of data. In fact, the data of a single patient can be substantial,” Søren Brunak explains. 

A lot of people expect future quantum computers – that is, extremely powerful computers – to be able to streamline calculations and thus to be more eco-friendly. However, this solution is not without its problems in relation to data storage, Søren Brunak explains: 

“One of the problems with the technology is that it may not be a viable for storing data over a long period of time due to the instability of quantum mechanical bits. DNA may be a realistic option, especially for storing data you do not need to look at very often.” 

Contact

 

Professor Søren Brunak  
[email protected]  

Journalist and Press Officer Sascha Kael Rasmussen 
[email protected] 
+45 93 56 51 68 

The source of this news is from University of Copenhagen

Popular in Research

1

Mar 31, 2024

Ask Canadian Space Agency astronaut Jeremy Hansen your questions about going to the Moon

2

Mar 27, 2024

Keeping in touch: Why businesses are cultivating relationships with former employees

3

Mar 31, 2024

Solar eclipses associated with increased traffic fatalities

4

Mar 27, 2024

Using pulp and paper waste to scrub carbon from emissions

5

Mar 31, 2024

Global wildlife study during COVID-19 shows rural animals are more sensitive to human activity

Roundup of Key Statements

Oct 14, 2023

New path facilitates campus access for students

Feb 2, 2023