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Ran out of Storage Space? Try Bacterial Hard Drives

Question asked by kunal in #Coffee Room on Feb 21, 2011
kunal · Feb 21, 2011
Rank D1 - MASTER
These days everyone has these huge collections of movies, music, documents and images which could hardly be stored in our regular computer hard disks. So, we are busy buying external hard disks with storage capacities starting from a few hundred gigabytes to around a Terabyte. There is no doubt that these hard disks have temporarily solved our problems and some people even believe that this much amount of memory is enough to store a lifetime of data. But as the sound and video quality of the media is getting more and more realistic with HD and blue ray technology, their size is also becoming larger. A movie file which used to be about a few hundred MB large may be available in blue ray version of 2 GB. So what will you do? Very simple; store your data in a Petri dish containing bacteria and then keep it safely in a refrigerator! I am not joking. A group of research students at the Hong Kong University in China have found a way to store complex information in bacteria.


These students have made reasonable progress in this new branch of science called BioStorage which came into existence about ten years ago. Biostorage is the technique of storing encoded digital information inside living organisms. About four years ago in 2007, a group of students at Japan’s Keio University had encrypted successfully the famous equation by Einstein E=MC² in the soil bacterium DNA. They confirmed that since the bacteria undergo fast multiplication which is a continuous process, a piece of data can be stored in a group of such microbes for thousands of years.

Now, the Hong Kong University students have made progress which is way ahead of this simple data saving. They are now able to store much more data and have overcome a large number of practical problems which arise during the actual physical process. For their experiments, they made use of the bacterium <em>E. Coli</em> which is rather infamous as a food poisoning agent.

This novel technology which seems as a plot of a science fiction movie consists of data compression as the first step. After that, the data block is broken down to sub-units which are then stored in different individual cells. On top of it, a method for mapping the data has also been implemented for easy access to information. A unique thing about this is that the genetic code of the bacteria is not modified in any way but it is simply made to act as a carrier for the digital data.

The minute size of these single celled organisms makes them a perfect choice for saving our data. For the record, it can be said that 1 gram of these bacteria have the same space as that provided by 450 hard disks of 2000 GB each! Sounds incredible, doesn’t it? Moreover, these bacteria can’t be hacked. So you are assured that the data is safe. They are totally immune to power supply problems and information thefts. The data is safeguarded using a three layered security protocol. This type of encryption has been given the name “Biocryptography” by the research team.

The synthetic biology experiments like these have got innumerable other applications which are Eco-friendly as well as cost effective. Posted in: #Coffee Room

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