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Mind the Tech NYC

"All of the World's Data Could Fit into a Single Room of Genetic Information"

DNA could be used for the long-term storage of information, according to Yaniv Erlich, the CSO of online genealogy company MyHeritage, who spoke at Calcalist's Mind the Tech conference in New York on Tuesday

Orr Hirschauge | 08:58  14.03.2018
Until 2010, the expanse of storing data decreased by around 40% a year, but the rate of reduction has begun to slow. This is one of the two main challenges to information storage, according to Yaniv Erlich, the chief science officer of online genealogy company MyHeritage Ltd., who spoke at Calcalist's Mind the Tech conference in New York on Tuesday. The second challenge is the digital conversion of old storage technologies.

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Mr. Erlich, who is also an assistant professor of computer science and computational biology at Columbia University and a core member of the New York Genome Center, is leading MyHeritage's relatively new DNA service. Launched in 2016, the service enables people to test DNA matching and provides ancestry and ethnicity estimates.

Yaniv Erlich at Calcalist Yaniv Erlich at Calcalist's Mind the Tech conference in New York on Tuesday. Photo: Orel Cohen Yaniv Erlich at Calcalist

In a series of studies, the culmination of which was published in 2017 in the Science journal, Mr. Erlich and a joint Columbia-Genome Center team used coding techniques to developed a way to store data in DNA molecules and then retrieve it fully. Among the files stored were a $50 Amazon gift card, an academic paper from 1948, and the 1896 silent film "Arrival of a train at La Ciotat."

10 tons of genetic material will be enough to store the entire span of human knowledge, Mr. Erlich said Tuesday—replacing the huge server farms spread across the world today.

DNA storage has its own setbacks, Mr. Erlich explained, mainly that it breaks down after sequencing. This means that the more you read it, the more information you lose. But there is a solution—replicating the information over and over.

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The human body naturally replicates DNA during cell division, a process that occurs in the body endlessly, said Mr. Erlich, and that's the process the team currently pegs as the solution. While the price is currently very high, in the future all information could be replicated with DNA again and again at a very low cost.

"My daughter likes to hear the song 'let it go,' from the movie Frozen, five times a day," Mr. Erlich said. "If we'd store that on DNA, we'd be left with very little by the end of the week." But replication would solve even that problem.
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