Enlarge (credit: Wyss Institute, Harvard)

When it comes to data storage, efforts to get faster access grab most of the attention. But long-term archiving of data is equally important, and it generally requires a completely different set of properties. To get a sense of why getting this right is important, just take the recently revived NASA satellite as an example—extracting anything from the satellite's data will rely on the fact that a separate NASA mission had an antiquated tape drive that could read the satellite's communication software.

One of the more unexpected technologies to receive some attention as an archival storage medium is DNA. While it is incredibly slow to store and retrieve data from DNA, we know that information can be pulled out of DNA that's tens of thousands of years old. And there have been some impressive demonstrations of the approach, like an operating system being stored in DNA at a density of 215 Petabytes a gram.

But that method treated DNA as a glob of unorganized bits—you had to sequence all of it in order to get at any of the data. Now, a team of researchers has figured out how to add something like a filesystem to DNA storage, allowing random access to specific data within a large collection of DNA. While doing this, the team also tested a recently developed method for sequencing DNA that can be done using a compact USB device.

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