Access and Feeds

Storage: Chemical and Biological Data Storage

By Dick Weisinger

Researchers are finding that data can be embedded into molecules or even DNA.

For example, DNA strands allow for very dense storage of data. Catalog, a biotech company in Boston, recently announced that they were able to encode 16GB of Wikipedia English-language information onto DNA. The company says that DNA is a million times more dense than flash drive technology and can potentially last for thousands of years.

James Tuck, an associate professor at North Carolina State University, said that “DNA systems are attractive because of their potential information storage density; they could theoretically store a billion times the amount of data stored in a conventional electronic device of comparable size. But two of the big challenges here are, how do you identify the strands of DNA that contain the file you are looking for? And once you identify those strands, how do you remove them so that they can be read – and do so without destroying the strands?”

DNA storage is still definitely a work in progress. But researchers are looking at other type of molecular-based methods for storing data. A group at Brown found that by using liquid mixtures of sugars and amino acids that they were able to encrypt image data into the solution and later retrieve the information.

Brenda Rubenstein, assistant professor of chemistry at Brown, said that “using molecules for computation is a tremendous opportunity, and we are only starting to figure out how to take advantage of it. Research like this challenges what people see as being possible in molecular data systems. DNA is not the only molecule that can be used to store and process information. It’s exciting to recognize that there are other possibilities out there with great potential.”

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