Preserving data for a long time has always been a challenge for the IT industry. Now scientists may have achieved a breakthrough by harnessing bacterial DNA to do the job.
Bacteria are unusual in the animal kingdom in that they can survive unharmed and basically unchanged for millenia – certainly longer than any of the storage media employed today.
Researchers from Japan's Keio University Institute for Advanced Biosciences and Keio University Shonan Fujisawa Campus have successfully stored messages in the DNA of hay bacillus bacteria, which are generally found in soil or decaying matter and are exceptionally resistant to extreme weather conditions.
Scientists create synthetic DNA, which includes the data to be stored and implant it in four different places within each bacterium – each bacterium therefore carries its own backups.
Each hay bacillus bacterium can store two megabit, the equivalent of 1,6-million Roman letters. The scientists can take out the microscopic implants in a laboratory and read them so they appear as ordinary text.
The team of scientists says the technology needs to be perfected, but is optimistic about its future uses.
In practical terms, the technology could eventually benefit companies such as pharmaceutical makers which want to “stamp” their brand to couteract fraudulent products.
The bacteria’s hardiness and ability to preserve data for future generations would also be extremely useful in storing vast amounts of data which would not be suspectible to the types of damage that wipe out computer hard drives. Information stored on DNA lasts for more than one hundred million years.
The researchers project being able to develop a type of living memory for a new breed of organic computers which would use strands of DNA to perform calculations and would have the ability to heal themselves if damaged.
Though the promise of this technology is very high, the scientists caution more work is needed before it can be marketed. One of the hurdles to overcome is ensuring very slow mutation rates in the DNA as the bacteria evolve, otherwise the messages encoded will be rendered unreadable.