IARPA Funds Team Involving DNA Script, the Broad Institute, and Harvard University for DNA Data Storage Research and Development

South San Francisco, Calif. | January 15, 2020

DNA Script today announced that the company and its Molecular Encoding Consortium partners have been awarded a multi-phase contract worth up to $23 million from the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity’s (IARPA) Molecular Information Storage (MIST) program. The goal of the project is to develop sequence-controlled polymers as the basis for deployable storage technologies that can eventually scale into the exabyte regime and beyond with reduced physical footprint, power and cost requirements relative to conventional storage technologies.

The Molecular Encoding Consortium is led by the Laboratory of Dr. Robert Nicol at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard and includes DNA Script and Professor Donhee Ham’s Research Group at Harvard University. The consortium will explore the possibility of integrating a novel enzymatic DNA synthesis technology and next-generation sequencing into a single instrument over the 4-year duration of the program. The consortium plans to collaborate with Illumina to leverage its sequencing-by-synthesis (SBS) technologies for accurate, low cost decoding.

Massive amounts of digital data are generated every day, and emerging technologies such as autonomous cars and artificial intelligence will further increase the need for data storage at unprecedented scales. This causes major challenges to private and public organizations, which currently rely on exabyte-scale data centers that have large footprints, consume megawatts of power and cost hundreds of millions of dollars to build, operate and maintain over their lifetimes. It is expected that the anticipated growth in data storage requirements cannot be addressed by current resource-intensive technologies. Nucleic acid-based systems hold promise to store this information with radically reduced physical footprints, power and cost requirements.

This technology is not mature yet and will require extensive development to be ready to use. IARPA has therefore launched the MIST program to fund initiatives that could turn molecular-based data storage into reality. The Molecular Encoding Consortium is one of these funded projects.

“This contract with IARPA, which is part of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, in partnership with prestigious partners such as the Broad Institute and Harvard University is a strong recognition of DNA Script’s results and leadership in developing enzymatic template-free nucleic acid synthesis,” said Dr. Thomas Ybert, CEO of DNA Script. “However, it is only the beginning of this ambitious project, which will require us to push current technological limits to bring to life our cutting-edge technology while also delivering an operational solution to one of the most important challenges of our time.”

“This project at the intersection of molecular biology, physics, chemistry, information theory and electrical engineering leverages the multi-disciplinary capabilities of our laboratory, our exceptional consortium partners and the collaborative nature of our Institute,” said Dr. Robert Nicol, Senior Director of Technology Development at the Broad Institute and the consortium’s Principal Investigator. “The objectives set out by IARPA for this four-year program are ambitious and will require scientific innovations, as well as robust and scalable technologies.”

“The Molecular Encoding Consortium integrates the different experiences and expertise of these leading institutions,” said Dr. Donhee Ham, the Gordon McKay Professor of Electrical Engineering and Applied Physics at Harvard University. “My research group will bring expertise in the interface of solid-state electronic chips and biological systems. I am looking forward to working with the consortium team in combining silicon integrated circuit technology with molecular biology and electrochemistry to tackle this very interesting problem.”

“DNA is the ideal way to store information for long periods of time,” said Dr. Mostafa Ronaghi, Chief Technology Officer of Illumina. “We are excited by the opportunity to collaborate with the early pioneers involved in this project and having our SBS chemistry and instruments used to decode the digital information.”