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Catalog Raises $10M To Bring DNA-Based Data Storage To Market

‘We‘re not investing in near-line storage. We’re focused on long, very long, archives. With DNA, we can store the media for hundreds of years. As long as there are DNA sequencers available, the DNA can be read,’ says David Turek, chief technology officer at Catalog.

Catalog, a Boston-based startup focused on developing technology to store archival data using synthetic DNA, on Wednesday unveiled a new $10 million Series A funding round to help continue development of its technology.

The company also unveiled the hiring of David Turek a longtime IBM storage executive, as its chief technology officer.

While there has been talk of using synthetic DNA data storage technology to build high-density storage devices, Catalog is the first to demonstrate the commercial viability of the technology, even though it was a prototype device, Turek told CRN.

[Related: The 10 Hottest Storage Startups Of 2020 (So Far)]

The company last year was able to write the entire English language version of Wikipedia, which amounted to about 16 GBs of data, onto a tube about 1.5 inches long and 0.25 inches wide, he said.

Catalog‘s technology relies on a device that feeds blank webbing at 16 meters per minute into a modified inkjet printer that deposits drops of synthetic DNA on the web, Turek said. That webbing is then moved to an incubation chamber to represent the data, which is then written to a flask of DNA.

Reading the data can be done with a DNA sequencer, he said.

As a result, the Catalog technology is useful for archiving data, but not for online or nearline data, he said.

“We‘re not investing in near-line storage,” he said. ”We’re focused on long, very long, archives. With DNA, we can store the media for hundreds of years. As long as there are DNA sequencers available, the DNA can be read.”

It is important to realize that the DNA used for storing data in the Catalog system is not biologically-active DNA, Turek said.

“It‘s synthetic data,” he said. ”We’re taking the DNA structure and adding pieces to make sure some rogue scientist can’t drop it into making a dinosaur.”

According to Catalog, DNA technology is about a million times more dense than that of magnetic and solid-state media, meaning that a football field worth of storage capacity could fit into a DNA-based container the size of a sugar cube and remain stable for thousands of years.

Unlike other exotic new technologies like quantum computing, which needs environments with temperatures of one to two degrees Kelvin, or under about negative 450 degrees Fahrenheit, DNA-based storage technology needs no extreme environments in which to operate, Turek said.

“But if you want, you will be able to convert the data into pellets that can survive extreme environments,” he said.

Catalog‘s technology allows the writing of data to DNA data storage at about 10 megabits per second, but the architecture allows scalability to multiple gigabits per second, Turek said. He declined to discuss the costs of DNA data storage technology.

“We have orders of magnitude ways to improve the cost and performance,” he said. ”We‘re also looking at a desktop version.”

Catalog‘s DNA data storage technology is still in development, Turek said. While the company used its prototype to build a device to store the Wikipedia data, the company needs to demonstrate how the technology works with broad types of data and content, he said. Catalog is also looking at how to bring not only its hardware and software to market, but also at how to turn the technology into a service.

“There is chemistry in the machine, so some people will not want one on-premises,” he said. ”We‘re going to let the market decide.”

The new $10 million funding brings total funding in Catalog, which was founded in 2016 by MIT scientists, to $21 million, and will be used to fund early product trials and further R&D.

Prior to joining Catalog, Turek spent nearly 21 years at IBM in a variety of storage and computing roles. He spent the last six years as vice president of technical computing OpenPOWER technology after working for over nine years on IBM‘s exascale computing business.

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