Join getAbstract to access the summary!

Could the Next Big Information Technology Be ... DNA?

Join getAbstract to access the summary!

Could the Next Big Information Technology Be ... DNA?

How DNA is used to store – and generate – information at extreme scales

Scientific American,

5 min read
4 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

DNA has many qualities that make it attractive as a medium for data storage, but we are not quite there yet.

Editorial Rating



  • Innovative
  • Scientific
  • Visionary


Scientists are exploiting their relatively new capabilities to read and write DNA. They make DNA markers that help them simultaneously study large numbers of samples – nanoparticles, cell types, drugs – in a way never before possible. But because everyone’s genetic information is still stored in DNA – that is, after all, its original purpose – storing other information in it is risky. Anyone with a sequencer could gain access to personal data. Read on to learn how putting information in DNA has been a boon for research, and why it’s is not quite yet ready to replace your hard drive. 


DNA is extremely resistant.

Every organism that has ever lived on Earth has stored its genetic information within DNA molecules. Unlike current data servers, DNA is stable in a wide range of temperatures, from -80oC where it is usually stored in lab freezers to the near-boiling temperatures in hot springs and thermal vents. It can last for tens of thousands of years and it has about a million-fold higher density storage capacity than hard drives.

Unique DNA bar codes have helped studies of drug delivery, drug resistance and disease development.

Scientists have taken to using unique DNA bar codes as molecular tags linked to their samples. This allows them to analyze many more samples simultaneously than was ever feasible before. Since scientists now have the ability to read DNA sequences quickly and cheaply, any samples that demonstrate desirable traits or activities can be easily plucked from the mix and identified by their DNA tags. 

James Dahlman’s lab has linked DNA bar codes to nanoparticles with different sizes, shapes, and chemical properties to test which can best deliver drugs. All of the nanoparticles are then injected into...

About the Author

James E. Dahlman is an assistant professor at the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology and Emory University. His laboratory works at the interface of drug delivery, nanotechnology, genomics and gene editing.

Comment on this summary