Here Comes the DNA Database

server cabinets with DNA strands rising out of the top

Posted on Friday, August 2, 2019

DNA databases are nothing new– most police forces now operate these systems to track details of crimes and the genetic fingerprint of suspects. But new developments from the French EURECOM research center are about to make DNA itself the storage medium.

Making DNA storage useful

On several previous occasions, the CDS blog has looked at the development of DNA as a potential storage medium of the future– most recently the demonstration of an automated sequencing device by Microsoft.

Until now, all efforts to encode and decode data have been concentrated on unstructured files. The DNA fountain successfully stored a video clip and some text within a DNA strand, for instance.

But the EURECOM team has pushed the boundary further still. In their research paper titled OligoArchive: Using DNA in the DBMS Storage Hierarchy, the team outlines their success in integrating synthetic genetic material in a relational database. Their tests show that it is possible to use DNA as the storage medium for a PostgreSL database. 

The power of metadata

Successful experiments have shown that data and queries contained in TPC-H, a standard database benchmark, can be run against a PostgreSQL instance. Importantly, these queries were not simply performing serial access, as was the case with tests carried out by other researchers, reading each strand from end to end to retrieve data.

Instead EURECOM were able to demonstrate the ability to select data at will from any point of the synthetic DNA strand. This is crucial to increasing query efficiency and performing the relational database tasks at the heart of most IT operations.

This new technique relies on adding extra metadata to information as it is encoded. This not only provides database schema awareness, but also improves the actual write process and helps to identify errors during data decoding. 

DNA data viability moves a step closer

The fact that DNA can now be used with known database technologies is a massive step towards production readiness. Synthetic genetic material remains relatively slow (and very expensive), but for certain cold-storage archiving applications, it may eventually become a viable storage medium. 

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