MONDAY, 13 DECEMBER 2010
While current electronic data storage methods approach their limits in density, the team achieved unprecedented results with a colony of E.coli. Their technique allows the equivalent of the United States Declaration of Independence to be stored in the DNA of eighteen bacterial cells. Given there are approximately ten million cells in one gram of biological material, the potential for data storage is huge. Furthermore, data can be encrypted using the natural process of site specific genetic recombination: information is scrambled by recombinase genes, whose actions are controlled by a transcription factor.
However, the technique is not yet perfect. Retrieval of data requires a sequencer, and is therefore tedious and expensive. Additionally, toxic DNA is bound to be present within the stored sequences. It is feared that organisms will mutate to remove such sequences, thereby deleting some of the data.
Consequently, the application of this technology is currently restricted to storing copyright information in genetically engineered organisms. Nevertheless, these results are encouraging. A bacterial medium has the potential to be more resilient than electronic methods of data storage. For example, the bacterium Deinococcus radiodurans is extremely radioresistant; the entrusted information would survive even under the electromagnetic pulse and radiation of nuclear fallout.
Written by Cheng Xie