Catalog Hauls In $9M to Make DNA-Based Data Storage Commercially Viable

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a silicon-based portable hard drive with 1 terabyte of storage capacity typically costs less than $100, and the process of saving 1 terabyte of data on it would only take a few hours. The bottom line is even if Catalog’s system performs as well as advertised, the company and its rivals are still a long way from being able to compete with the lower costs and faster data transfer speeds of hard drives. Still, DNA’s longevity and compactness might make that tradeoff worth it for some users, particularly those who want to store data for long periods of time without accessing it.

Park says he and his co-founder, Nathaniel Roquet, met at the Synthetic Biology Center at MIT, where they were both working in associate professor Timothy Lu’s group. Park was doing postdoctoral research at MIT, and Roquet was a graduate student researcher at Harvard. They formed Catalog in fall 2016 and relocated to San Francisco to participate in the IndieBio startup accelerator, Park says. They later moved back to Boston and set up shop in the Harvard Life Lab, a co-working and lab space that’s part of the Harvard Innovation Labs.

Catalog has six employees, including the recently hired chief science officer Devin Leake, who was previously the head of DNA synthesis at Ginkgo Bioworks, a Boston-based synthetic biology company. Most of Catalog’s team is trained in biology and chemistry, so some of the venture capital will be spent on hiring more computer scientists, Park says.

In addition to NEA, Catalog says its investors include OS Fund, Day One Ventures, Data Collective, Green Bay Ventures, AME Cloud Ventures, Industry Ventures, and the messaging app company Line. They’re betting that Catalog will beat competitors, including Iridia and Helixworks Technologies, in the race to deliver practical DNA-based data storage systems.

Ultimately, Park envisions DNA being used not only for storing data, but also for transporting it. He says NASA, for example, might want to use DNA to more easily and reliably transport information through space, which would become more important if humans one day colonize other planets. Back on Earth, intelligence agencies could transport data more securely with DNA, Park says.

“If you wanted to carry around a few petabytes [of data] with you in just a few grams [of material], in an untraceable way, DNA would be a good way to do it,” Park says.

[Top photo courtesy of Catalog. From L to R: Leake, Park, and Catalog scientist Milena Lazova.]

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