The quest to squeeze more and more data into ever smaller spaces continues, but current materials and techniques have their limits. One day in the not too distant future we will reach the limits of current hard drive technology.
So where do we look for the next storage breakthrough? If you ask researchers at The Chinese University of Hong Kong they’d say we need to look for a living solution, more specifically bacteria. In fact, they’ve already achieved it, managing to store 90GB of data in 1 gram of cells.
The team has developed a massively parallel bacterial storage system that also achieves data encryption through DNA shuffling. An encoding system takes the original data, turns it into a quaternary number, and then encodes it as a DNA sequence. Encryption is achieved through DNA sequence shuffling. That process also involves compressing the data to allow for more storage within the same sequence.
As an example of what can be achieved, the team managed to get the 8,074 character Declaration of Independence stored in 18 cells of bacteria. The 90GB claim comes from the fact that 1 gram of cells consists of 10 million cells showing you the potential for huge storage capabilities in hardly any space or weight.
Testing is ongoing, but the team has already proven they can convert data and store it as DNA and then get the data back out without any loss of information. They also believe any data can be stored using this method including text, images, music, and video.
The next step is to start inserting bar codes into synthetic organisms as a way of distinguishing synthetic and natural organisms from each other.
Although the PDF presentation goes over the details of what is being done here, there’s little information on how reliable and long term a data store like this is. How quickly do the cells breakdown? What happens if there’s a mutation? In order for this to work as a storage solution such questions need to be answered and the cells controlled.
If living cells do become a viable storage method, then there are a number of clear advantages over current systems. The first is the potential for massive gains in storage in the equivalent space of today’s hard drives. If you can get 90GB in a gram, and this scales easily, we don’t need to worry about increasing storage in the future. It will become a matter of weight rather than how much data we can cram into the same space.
Other advantages include bacteria being more resilient to drops and bumps, as well as not being rigid meaning we could have storage devices of all different shapes and sizes.
This is an exciting development, but one that needs a lot more R&D time before anyone takes it seriously.