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Current technologies for digital data storage are hitting sustainability limits in terms of energy consumption and their use of rare and toxic materials. Moreover, data integrity when using those technologies is limited in time, which complicates archival data-storage. DNA or certain classes of synthetic DNA alternatives provide an alternative that promises information densities that are several orders of magnitude higher than classical memories, and stability for millennia rather than years. Moreover, DNA-based data storage can profit from the growing range of DNA research, tools and techniques from the life sciences, while potentially also adding to it (e.g., for in-vivo data collection).
Proof of concept for DNA data archiving in vitro (i.e. not in living cells) is now well established. Several studies have shown that such archiving can support selective and scalable access to data, as well as error-free storage and retrieval of information. However, technical challenges remain to make this process economically viable for a broad spectrum of uses (beyond so-called ‘cold data’) and data types. These relate to improving the cost, speed and efficiency of technologies for reading, and especially writing and editing, DNA or other information-storing bio-polymers.
Large corporates and governments are starting to show an interest and some smaller companies offer solutions for specific archival applications. Europe has academic and commercial potential in this area. The time is right to pull together a European R&I ecosystem on DNA-based digital data storage.
This EIC Pathfinder Challenge is to explore scalable and reliable high-throughput approaches for using DNA as a general data-storage medium. Solutions would thus need to address the read/write/edit operations of digital data in synthetic DNA, capturing the expected advantages of high density and stability/longevity of this form of data storage. The use of DNA sequences as chassis for non-standard forms of information coding, or of other polymeric substrates and related coding/decoding techniques are also in scope, provided they entail at least similar benefits than state-of-the-art DNA approaches. Proposed techniques should deliver qualitative advances in key parameters such as throughput, DNA-length (well above a few hundred mers), reliability (coupling efficiency), speed and cost. Beyond the usual storage applications, there is also scope for radically different scenarios for such a technology, for instance for data-processing, in-vivo sensing or fingerprinting.
Applications submitted to this Challenge, must pay particular attention to the relevant bio-safety and ethical issues.
The following specific objectives for this Challenge have been defined:
- new approaches for coding, decoding, modification or computational use of digital data in synthetic DNA or other sequence-controllable polymers with quantitative targets (theoretical and technological);
- Proof-of-Concept of technical feasibility with indications of at least state of the art benefits and major operational characteristics (e.g., extreme densities, longevity, stability) and going well beyond for some of them (e.g., speed, cost, accuracy);
- end-to-end scenarios of use, be it for data storage (archival, but also shorter term storage) or other purposes (like sensing, cryptography or computation) that exploit the benefits of the technology.
Expected outcomes and impacts
Proposals should contribute to achieving one or several of the following:
- a range of new techniques with clear benefits and steps towards widening scope of applicability of DNA-based data storage;
- broader range of scenarios and uses for DNA-based data technologies;
- emergence and anchoring of a European innovation eco-system on DNA-based data technologies and applications, including through involvement of relevant partners and end-users;
- contribution to standardisation in the field and benchmarks to gauche progress.
Proposals for this Challenge can be submitted by single applicants or by consortia, as dictated by the activities to be performed.
For more details, see
How to apply
The call deadline for submitting your proposal is 19 October 2022 17.00 Brussels local time. (The call will open on 15 June 2022. The Director-General responsible for the call may decide to open the call up to one month prior to or after the envisaged date(s) of opening. The Director-General responsible may delay the deadline(s) by up to two months.)
You must submit your proposal via the Funding & tender opportunities portal.
Sections 1 to 3 of the part B of your proposal, corresponding respectively to the award criteria Excellence, Impact, and Quality and Efficiency of the Implementation, must consist of a maximum of 25 A4 pages. The standard admissibility and eligibility conditions are detailed in Annex 2, and the eligibility of applicants from third countries in Annex 3.
You will be informed about the outcome of the evaluation 5 months after call deadline (indicative), and your grant agreement will be signed by 8 months after call deadline (indicative).