9 DNA Data Storage Companies to Watch
The storage capacity of DNA is so powerful that all the data in the world could be stored in a volume of less than 3 gallons. It was in January of 2017 that we first wrote about using DNA to store data, pointing out an Irish startup that was selling a DNA storage device on Amazon. While the device is no longer available for whatever reason, there are now a whole bunch of DNA data storage companies that have popped up. That’s according to an article published on Synbiobeta yesterday which talks about how the archaic method of storing data on magnetic tapes hasn’t changed for 50 years now, and it’s high time we found a long-term storage medium with a lifespan longer than 10 years. DNA could be that medium, based on the fact that a single strand of DNA could store this much information for thousands of years:
The Synbiobeta article consults with some experts out there who think that we will see commercially viable DNA data storage in the next ten years, with Microsoft and Twist Biosciences leading the way at the moment. This made us curious about just how many startups there are right now trying to tackle this problem, and how much funding is going into the DNA storage space. Without further ado, here are nine startups working on DNA data storage.
Founded in 2016, Massachusetts startup Catalog has taken in $9.3 million in funding from a diverse set of 25 investors so far including names like Chinese Internet giant Baidu (BIDU) and Bryan Johnson’s moonshot-focused OS Fund. Founded by two MIT scientists, Catalog claims to be the first company to have developed a solution to make DNA data storage commercially viable. The company’s chief science officer was poached from Ginkgo Bioworks where he worked as Head of DNA Synthesis, and comes to the table with over one hundred issued patents and more than thirty publications in the area of nucleic acid biology and chemistry. The CTO of Catalog was previously the co-founder of Raindance Technologies, a liquid biopsy startup that was acquired last year after raising over $130 million in funding. They’ve certainly won “the war for talent” that you’ll often hear recruiters babbling on about – much like our next company has as well.
Founded in 2015, Essex U.K. startup Evonetix has taken in $14 million in funding to develop technology that allows them to create long DNA threads accurately and at scale, a prerequisite to using DNA for data storage. The ability to create synthetic DNA from scratch is referred to as “DNA synthesis“, and the applications extend beyond data storage into just about anything you can think of. The company’s technology is based upon a novel silicon array, manufactured with semiconductor microfabrication techniques, and capable of independent control of 10,000 miniaturized reaction sites, allowing massive parallelism and therefore very high throughput with error rates less than 1 in 1 billion (as good as nature in other words.) According to a post on the Evonetix blog, the team includes “researchers from the original Solexa team who were responsible for a cost reduction in sequencing by a factor of 10,000 in seven years.” Solexa revolutionized automated DNA sequencing and was bought by Illumina (ILMN) in 2007 for $600 million.
Founded in 2013, San Diego startup Molecular Assemblies has taken in $6.8 million in funding to develop what the company describes as “the first practical method of synthesizing DNA.” It’s described as “an enzymatic, platform-independent synthesis technology that produces long, high-quality, sequence-specific DNA reliably and affordably.” DNA data storage is an obvious application for their technology, and last month the company announced that they successfully completed an end-to-end run to store and retrieve digital information in DNA. According to an article in the San Diego Union-Tribune, they’re looking to raise more money this fall. They’re also not the only startup using enzymes for DNA synthesis.
Founded in 2014, French startup DNA Script has taken in just over $24 million in funding from investors that include Illumina and Merck (MRK) to develop a platform for manufacturing synthetic DNA using a proprietary template-free enzymatic technology. They’re currently hiring a VP of Industrial Property whose job it will be to manage their intellectual property portfolio and “analyze competitors’ portfolios”. According to an article by Xconomy, Molecular Assemblies has patents in both the United States and Europe, so if you’re interviewing for the job make sure to mention that and you’ll sound like you’re ahead of the game. You’re welcome.
We first wrote about this next startup in January of 2016 in an article titled Twist Bioscience: Manufacturing Synthetic DNA. Founded in 2013, this San Francisco startup has now taken in just over $253 million from 24 different investors including Illumina and asset manager Fidelity. Twist uses a proprietary semiconductor-based synthetic DNA manufacturing process featuring a high-throughput silicon platform allowing them to reduce the reaction volumes by a factor of 1,000,000 while increasing throughput by a factor of 1,000, enabling the synthesis of 9,600 genes on a single silicon chip at full scale. At face value, it sounds as if Twist is already doing what Evonetix hopes to do. Apparently, Agilent (A) has been poking around Twist’s intellectual property and they’re starting to get pissed off about it. (Agilent happens to be backing Molecular Assemblies.)
Founded in 2015, Irish startup Helixworks Technologies has taken in an undisclosed amount of funding to develop their storage technology which we highlighted before, and which used to be available for purchase on Amazon. The firm provides a comprehensive document which describes their process in great detail but went over our heads in terms of technical complexity (which isn’t saying much.) Their platform is called MoSS, short for Molecular Storage System, and is open source so they don’t have any of those pesky intellectual property problems to deal with. The question is, does anyone actually use MoSS? And did anyone actually buy any of those DNA storage devices they were peddling on Amazon for $199 a pop?
Founded in 2013, Austrian firm Kilobaser has raised an undisclosed amount of funding to develop the “Nespresso machine of DNA synthesis”. They’re already taking reservations for the $9,351 machine which creates DNA primers. (According to Wikipedia, a primer is a short single strand of RNA or DNA (generally about 18-22 bases) that serves as a starting point for DNA synthesis.) Here’s the machine along with some basic specs:
The machine is expected to ship in August 2019.
“Data storage is in our DNA” claims our next startup. Founded in 2016, San Diego startup Iridia has taken in $2.5 million in funding to develop DNA storage technology using “DNA polymer synthesis technology, electronic nano-switches, and semiconductor fabrication technologies.” Jay Flatley, founder and executive chairman of San Diego’s DNA sequencing giant Illumina, is an investor in Iridia and also sits on their board of directors. According to an article on the company’s website, Iridia wants to go “from an early prototype to an advanced model that could be picked up by a manufacturer and made into a machine that can be commercialized within three to five years.”
Founded in 2013, Silicon Valley startup Synthomics has taken in $1.1 million in disclosed funding to develop their “green machine” which promises to “synthesize oligonucleotides in a 1,536-well format.” (According to Wikipedia, oligonucleotides are short DNA or RNA molecules, oligomers, that have a wide range of applications in genetic testing, research, and forensics.) According to the company, an early access program started in January and they were said to begin shipments and installation to customers in Q2’17. That’s the last bit of news we’ve heard from them.
We’ve only covered nine firms because that’s all the names mentioned in the Synbiobeta article – and we’re reaching our word limit now. There are certainly more firms out there working on creating synthetic DNA, and data storage is just one application for this type of technology. Based on what we’ve read about Twist Biosciences, not to mention the amount of funding they’ve taken in, it seems as if Twist leads the pack at the moment. Then there’s Microsoft. According to an article by MIT Technology Review last year, a Microsoft researcher claims that their aim is a “proto-commercial system in three years storing some amount of data on DNA in one of our data centers, for at least a boutique application.” If DNA data storage becomes a reality, a whole lot more exciting things should emerge as well. It’s an exciting time to be alive, innit?
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