E. Coli Bacteria Could Become Our Next Computer Hard Drives


Image via kaibara87 via Flickr Creative Commons

Researchers have figured out that data can be stored in bacteria, and that a single gram of bacteria can store more information than a giant 900 terabyte hard drive! This storing and encrypting information in living organisms is called biostorage, and students at Hong Kong's Chinese University are using E. coli to test the possibilities of how we store information in the future. You could one day keep a box of E. coli bacteria in your fridge, but rather than storing just the potential for food poisoning, you'll be storing piles of information.

Discovery News reports that the concept started several years ago.

"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."

Now, research has progressed, and the Hong Kong researchers have figured out how to compress data, store it in chunks in several organisms, and map the DNA so the information can be easily found again, like a filing system. They're calling it biocryptography.

According to the researchers, this could mean a revolution in how we store text, images, music, and even video. And what's more, the information can't be hacked:

"All kinds of computers are vulnerable to electrical failures or data theft. But bacteria are immune from cyber attacks. You can safeguard the information," Professor Chan Ting Fung told AFP.

The researchers are now looking into what types of bacteria are good to use -- there are some that can even survive nuclear radiation, which is important to know for ensuring information survives even the worst scenarios -- as well as how to contain the bacteria and access the information after encryption. We're many years from seeing bacteria take over for hard drives, but the foundations are being formed.

The potential of bacteria in daily use is being explored beyond just how to control it for health reasons. Researchers have created a self-destructing bacteria that can heal cracks in concrete. It can only grow when in contact with concrete, so it grows rapidly to fill the crack, but stops when the crack is filled.

Bacteria can not only heal city infrastructure, but may also help plan it. For instance, researchers have watched the way specifically slime mold finds its way from one food source to another. It moves in much the same ways as our road systems between major cities. Watching how slime mold moves across a petri dish could help us plan roadways and other transit maps.

Mostly researchers study how to kill off or control bacteria, but it's clear that there is so much potential to what these microorganisms can help us accomplish.

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Tags: Computing | Concepts & Prototypes | Electronics

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