Scientists from Hayward University have discovered that living bacteria have the ability to store data in them and can act as data storing hard drives if properly utilized. The research found data storage on bacteria is possible by feeding strings of human written data into colonies of bacteria, and then reading that data with the help of Genotyping. The highlight of this research is that the said living memory sticks can pass this data onto their descendants, and scientists can later read that data by genotyping the latest bacteria breed.
Geneticist Seth Shipman said that the new finding has yielded results of roughly uploading 100 bytes of data.
It has to be notified over here that already, a team of scientists from same institute are working on a project of synthetically manufacturing DNA in the lab and writing a full length book of science onto it.
“But working with a living cell is an entirely different story and challenge,” says Jeff Nivala- a senior researcher from Hayward. Jeff added that rather than synthesizing DNA and cutting it into a living cell, they wanted to use nature’s own methods to write directly onto the Genome of a bacterial cell, so it gets copied and pasted into every subsequent generation.
Previously, scientists doing research on storing data on bacteria on a separate note proved that they can upload 11 bits of information on living cell. That’s just 11 zeroes and ones of binary data, and less information than any computer requires to code for two alphabetic letters. The new technique has expanded the previous record to roughly 11 bytes of data.
To store more data on bacteria, the Harvard Geneticists are using a fascinating immune response that certain bacteria have to protect themselves against viral infection.
In the parlance of geneticists, this response is called the CRISPR/CAS system and can be explained in simple terms- when bacteria are invaded by virus, they can physically cut out a segment of the attacking virus’s DNA and then paste it onto a specific region of the bacteria’s own genome. This allows a bacteria to remember what a certain virus looked like in case it ever tries to invade again. The said trait not only restricts itself to the said generation of bacteria, but is passed on to the bacteria’s progeny, transferring the viral immunity to future generations.
Thus, the team came to a conclusion that as long as they introduce a segment of genetic data that looks like viral DNA to a colony of bacteria carrying this CRISPR/CAS system, the bacteria would gobble it up and incorporate it into their genetic code.
Now, to turn a bunch of bacteria into tiny hard drives, all that Shipman and his team are doing was to disperse loose segments of Faux Viral DNA into a colony of E.Coli bacteria that has the CRISPR/CAS system. The DNA segments these scientists used were actually just arbitrary strings of data-say, secret messages written in the A,T,C,G, Nucleotide genetic letters of life-that were book-ended with chunks of real virus DNA. The researchers introduced one segment of data at a time and then allowed the bacteria do the rest, storing away info like squeamish librarians.
As the bacteria store their new immune system memories on a sequential note, so that viral DNA from earlier infections are recorded before those of more recent infections. This eliminates the need to tag each piece of info when it was introduced into the cell, if in case, it was stored on a random note.
However, all this process is being hindered by one complication. When scientists introduce coded messages of viral DNA to the bacteria, not all of the bacteria eat up the message. Around 20% of them miss the messages. So, message errors takes place while introducing data to bacteria.
But even with those errors, researchers are able to rapidly genotype a few thousand or million bacteria in a colony, and because the message is always recorded sequentially, the scientists are able to deduce what the full message was with crystal clarity.
Shipman says the 100 bytes his team demonstrated is nothing near to limit. Certain cells, like the Microorganism Sulfolobus Tokadaii would have room for more than 3,000 bytes of data. And with synthetic engineering, its not hard to imagine certain specially designed hard drive bacteria with vastly expanded regions of their genetic code, able to rapidly upload vast amounts of data.
Interesting isn’t it….? And lets hope it achieves more success in future and presents to us living bacteria which can act as data storing hard drives serving big data field.
If the said research attains success, then the bacteria have the potential to leave behind the current technologies such as scalable data storage appliances of digital world.
But the research has a lot to prove when it comes to Read and Writes and so till the time comes, let’s keep our fingers cross and hope for the best.