As technology continues to advance at a dizzying pace in nearly every aspect of our lives, this holds true for data storage solutions as well. Coming down the pipeline are some big (or, more accurately – minuscule) and exciting developments in the ways we store our digital data!
In a prior post, we discussed the fascinating possibilities of storing data on strands of DNA. The basic rundown of the process involves digital data being chopped up and stored as synthetic DNA molecules in sequenced strands. These strands are synthesized into actual DNA, which can be preserved for long periods of time (potentially thousands, or even a million years). DNA sequences are encoded with location markers for the data, allowing one to later reorder, convert and retrieve the data from the pool of stored DNA.
While the ability to realistically use this technology is perhaps years away, it is not science fiction, and scientists currently are developing and advancing the technology.
Metabolite data storage
DNA isn’t the only thing competing to replace hard drives, however. Let’s get even more microscopic! Even smaller and simpler molecules, known as metabolites, have shown the ability to store and allow for extraction of digital data. Metabolites are sugars, amino acids, and other molecules used by people and other living things to metabolize, or digest food. The idea is that these molecules are significantly smaller than DNA strands and with a large variety of such molecules, they can represent small amounts of data in a denser way than DNA. The presence or absence of certain metabolites in a mixture would act as binary 1s and 0s, allowing one to encode various types of data.
This was demonstrated recently by a research team from Brown University, who successfully stored and retrieved pictures of an anchor, an Egyptian cat, and an ibex, using solutions containing 6 different metabolites. After encoding the pictures using the binary process of utilizing the presence or absence of the metabolites in the solutions, the team was then able to reconstruct the data with close to 100% accuracy.
While use of this technology, like DNA storage, is still in its infancy, it holds huge potential. Similar to DNA storage, metabolite or molecular storage allows data to be stored for potentially long periods of time, in a stable format. Data would be more secure from threats such as data breaches or environmental disasters, as it could be stored offline rather than in the cloud, and the molecules would be more resistant to extreme physical forces (such as temperature or pressure) than current data storage technology.
Aside from metabolites, similar molecular data storage research is being done using peptides (short chains of amino acids), with encouraging results.
These emerging technologies point to an intriguing future for data storage. It will be interesting to see what technologies develop the quickest for feasible consumer use, and how long it will take us to get there.
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Disclaimer: The purpose of this post is to provide general education on Information Governance topics. The statements are informational only and do not constitute legal advice. If you have specific questions regarding the application of the law to your business activities, you should seek the advice of your legal counsel.