Scientists Just Took a Step Toward Using Living Cells as Hard Drives
A 72-bit message was encoded directly into bacterial DNA
Humans are generating digital data at a rate that could eventually outpace our available storage. Sprawling data centers lined with rows and rows of computer servers currently allow us to store, back up, and recover our data, but they’re costly to maintain, take up too much space, and consume huge amounts of electricity.
That’s why researchers are so interested in a much smaller and denser form of data storage: DNA.
To store information in DNA, a data file’s binary code — zeros and ones — is first converted into the four DNA bases — A, C, G, and T. Then, scientists chemically synthesize strands of DNA to match the desired sequence. Recently, researchers encoded an episode of the Netflix show Biohackers and 52 pages of Mozart music into DNA. A major benefit of DNA storage is that unlike a floppy disk or flash drive, DNA will never be obsolete.
A Smear of DNA Can Hold 10,000 Gigabytes of Data
Facing a storage crisis, the U.S. is investing $48 million to turn DNA into living hard drives
Whereas most of these efforts involve storing data in synthetic DNA made in a lab, Columbia University scientists recently stored data inside the DNA of living organisms. In a January 11 article in the journal Nature Chemical Biology, the researchers describe how they used the gene-editing tool CRISPR and electric stimulation to encode digital, binary data into Escherichia coli cells. The ability to do so, they explain, could open the door to better data storage options.
“It’s really hard to kill bacteria, which makes them great for information storage and long-term maintenance and protection of data,” lead author Harris Wang, PhD, associate professor of systems biology, tells Future Human.
Wang says that his team wanted a way to skip the manual step of converting binary code into DNA bases. Using a “genetic circuit” — a set of instructions that acts like an electrical circuit — and CRISPR, they built a system that recognizes voltage levels from a computer as zeros and ones and encodes them…