44 zettabytes: All the world’s data could be stored in a test tube. Here’s how

Credit: Shannon May/The Scientist
Credit: Shannon May/The Scientist

The amount of global data is estimated to be around 44 zettabytes. A 15-million-square-foot warehouse can hold 1 billion gigabytes, or .001 zettabyte. So you would need 44,000 such warehouses – which would cover nearly the entire state of West Virginia.

John Chaput is hoping to change all that.

A professor of pharmaceutical sciences at UCI with appointments in chemistry and molecular biology & biochemistry, he and his lab team are striving to improve a technique that’s already on the bleeding edge of synthetic biology and data storage. By employing an artificial variation of DNA, Chaput is transforming the field of semipermanent data storage.


By employing the four-letter nucleotide code used in DNA, rather than the binary system, Chaput’s team can effectively transcribe data to a strand of DNA, which is made up of four components: adenine, thymine, cytosine and guanine, referred to as A, T, C and G. By sequentially assigning each nucleotide a specific binary number, the researchers can essentially write a binary sequence using these nucleotides. 

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He has theorized that – due to the medium’s incredible complexity – all of human history, every book ever written, every song ever sung and every Instagram brunch photo ever taken could be stored in half a cup of liquid TNA.

“These systems open the door to new possibilities,” Chaput says. 


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