The future of data storage could be bacteria


Cloud storage may be all the rage in the data industry today, but a team of geneticists from Harvard University may have found another medium that could one day have a big impact on the way we store our information: bacteria.

The research team, which was led by Seth Shipman and Jeff Nivala, managed to “upload” roughly 100 bytes of data into a living sample of bacteria. While data storage using DNA has already been demonstrated by other scientists, Shipman told Popular Mechanics that “working within a living cell is an entirely different story and challenge.”

“Rather than synthesizing DNA and cutting it into a living cell, we wanted to know if we could 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.”

That means that not only were the researcher ables to upload the data into the bacteria, but the bacteria itself then copied the data into new cells as it grew. Effectively, the bacteria created its own ongoing backup system.

Of course, storing data in living cells is not without its limitations, and 100 bytes is obviously an insignificant amount of information when it could not even store something as small as a text file of this sentence. There is also the risk that mutations caused during DNA replication would effectively corrupt the data. Even with these issues, however, the researchers’ accomplishment could have major implications for the future.

If you want to read more about the method used to store data in bacteria, you can read the researchers’ paper that was published in the journal Science.

Photo by johnvoo_photographer