A PCR-Free Approach to Random Access in DNA

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Digital information and the technologies that manage it are an essential part of our lives. Ever-present connectivity — and the data storage demands that come with it — are reaching a fever pitch. The projected material supply for silicon-based memory technology is unable to satisfy the demand of the next decades, therefore, industry and government alike are considering alternative materials. For the past 3.5 billion years on Earth, DNA has served as life’s hard drive. Its use for molecular data storage was first proposed by Mikhail Neiman in the 1960s and realized by Joe Davis in the late 1980s. After being popularized by George Church and Nick Goldman in the early 2010s, and guided by the Semiconductor Synthetic Biology Roadmap from the mid-2010s, DNA data storage is now an established field of research and a promising alternative to conventional data storage systems. Efficient and reliable access to particular information is a crucial function of any storage technology, which is difficult to implement when data is encoded by molecular components such as DNA. In this issue of Nature Materials, James L. Banal and colleagues describe how random access to information stored on DNA can be achieved without the need for polymerase chain reaction (PCR) amplification.