Data Storage · Security & Privacy

Lee Organick

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Today we are joined by Lee Organick, a PhD student in the Molecular Information Systems Lab (MISL) at the University of Washington. Lee is a biologist turned computer scientist and engineer, quite a unique transition! She explains how she was “forced” to take a computer science class in her undergrad, which opened up a completely new field of interests. After this, she started incorporating more programming into her research, and as such slowly moved into more computational fields. This is how she eventually found herself at MISL, and has been programming molecules ever since. She talks about how the transition from biology to computer science was a difficult one, and how she suspects that she invested more time than the average student moving in the opposite direction.

We then move on to talk about her main research area, DNA storage. Because we focussed on the specifics of DNA storage in our previous episode with Yuan-Jyue Chen (another member of MISL), we spoke more about the future of DNA storage, specifically where it fits in to the current data storage ecosystem. Lee argues that DNA is currently best suited archival and long term data storage, with many advantages over the traditionally used tape. Lee also talks us through a new project she is working on which involves augmenting the previously discussed DNA based image similarity search with Cas9!

Finally we move onto an extremely interesting topic; that of the security concerns surrounding DNA data storage. We learn about how current sequencing machines may be vulnerable to buffer overflow attacks through the submission of malicious sequences, how sequencing leak can result in a nefarious third party being able to “spy” on other people’s pooled sequences, and some of our committee members even suggest some new potential exploits!


Lee Organick is a fourth year computer science and engineering Ph.D. student at the University of Washington in the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science and Engineering. Her focus is on the intersection of biology and computer science, using biology to do tasks traditionally done by computers.

She works in the Molecular Information Systems Lab in close collaboration with Microsoft Research to make archival DNA data storage a reality. She also collaborates with the Security and Privacy Research Lab to make DNA sequencing secure.