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Bacteria Will Replace Your Hardrive

One gram of bacteria could store the same amount of information as 450, 2,000-gigabyte hard disks.

Timothy Ryan, PSFK Labs
Timothy Ryan, PSFK Labs on February 7, 2011. @timjamesryan

Scientists at the Chinese University of Hong Kong are working to advance the process known as biostorage. According to researchers, biostorage will allow for data to be ‘recorded’ in E. coli bacteria. Bacteria are reported to have an immense storage capacity. One gram of bacteria could store the same amount of information as 450, 2,000-gigabyte hard disks.

“This means you will be able to keep large datasets for the long term in a box of bacteria in the refrigerator,” said Aldrin Yim, a student instructor on the university’s biostorage project, a 2010 gold medallist in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology prestigious iGEM competition.

Biostorage — the art of storing and encrypting information in living organisms — is a young field, having existed for about a decade.

In 2007, a team at Japan’s Keio University said they had successfully encoded the equation that represents Einstein’s theory of relativity, E=MC², in the DNA of a common soil bacterium.

They pointed out that because bacteria constantly reproduce, a group of the single-celled organisms could store a piece of information for thousands of years.

But the Hong Kong researchers have leaped beyond this early step, developing methods to store more complex data and starting to overcome practical problems which have lent weight to skeptics who see the method as science fiction.

The group has developed a method of compressing data, splitting it into chunks and distributing it between different bacterial cells, which helps to overcome limits on storage capacity. They are also able to “map” the DNA so information can be easily located.

Chinese University of Hong Kong

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