Your next hard drive - bacteria
    By Hank Campbell | December 5th 2010 10:00 AM | 7 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    About Hank

    I'm the founder of Science 2.0®.

    A wise man once said Darwin had the greatest idea anyone ever had. Others may prefer Newton or Archimedes...

    View Hank's Profile
    DNA computing and storage has been on the horizon for most of this decade but never gone beyond the intellectual exercise stage.   Storage limitations were far too small to merit applied science efforts so it was clever but that was the extent of it.

    That may not be the situation for much longer.   GenomeWeb reports that a research team from the Chinese University of Hong Kong has encrypted and stored a hefty 90GB of data in one gram of bacteria, creating what they are calling a "massively parallel bacterial storage system."

    And, in case you are worried about someone hacking your bacteria and stealing those pictures of your cat, they have created an encryption module with the R64 Shufflon-Specific Recombinase.   Next up, they want to encode images, music and movies and even place barcodes in synthetic organisms to distinguish them from natural ones.

    PDF of their presentation on this living data storage system here.

    bacteria as a hard drive text to quaternary to dna


    Gerhard Adam
    Great ... after all these years, they really do want to introduce "bugs" into the system :)
    Mundus vult decipi
    Ladislav Kocbach
    I have downloaded their presentation, looked through it and went to the link they gave for more details. This si what I have got:
    Team:Hong Kong-­‐CUHK

    From ... There is currently no text in this page, you can ....

    But before that, I think I understood that they have not encoded 90 GBytes of information, but rather the above 24 bytes of information, or something similar. Also, they did not write on 1 gram of bacteria .....
    They are fast to publish their preliminary results, I think. In any case, I would propose to call this technology rather a WET DRIVE than a hard drive
    I also have some worries that this - at its present stage - might be rather a type of "write only memory", or WOM, a sort of analogy to ROM, this also reminds of the slogans "write once ..... " (and never read it)
    (links to WORE and WORM  at wikipedia:
    and,_run_anywhere  - these, unlike WOM, were not jokes).

    Another association are those letters IBM written by 40 or how many atoms. They remained on the sample, I suppose, but nobody is ever going to find them. A very advanced form of WOM (20 years ago ?). Still waiting for those hard drives, or rather SSDs. In the meantime, we have got Mac Air, still with dry drives, no rumors yet of wet drives.
    Ladislav Kocbach
    The wet drive
    is a product of competing undergraduate students at the yearly .
    Here is what the introduction said:

    The International Genetically Engineered Machine competition (iGEM)
    is the premiere undergraduate Synthetic Biology competition. Student
    teams are given a kit of biological parts at the beginning of the summer
    from the Registry of Standard Biological Parts. Working at their own
    schools over the summer, they use these parts and new parts of their own
    design to build biological systems and operate them in living cells.
    This project design and competition format is an exceptionally
    motivating and effective teaching method.
    here is the PDF of the presentation and "here" is at

    Even before graduation the wet drive team  are very good in marketing, and why not to say it, they are simply incredibly good salesmen and saleswomen. To be precise,  their project wiki now came up:  and shows that there are very cute 5 salesmen and 4 saleswomen. They are probably very good students all of them too.

    But they did not win. The winner team is from Slovenia and did not design and sell wet drive, instead they did something which we must find later, since while I am writing this, the website stopped working again - I am now getting messages about  "SOFTWARE ERROR:
    Can't call method "short_name" without a package ... "

    It seems that several people did not check their sources, in particular the apparent source of all of this, 
    at ,
    Matthew Dublin , who wrote: A research team
    from the Chinese University of Hong Kong
    has reported a method for
    encrypting and storing 90GB of data in one gram of bacteria. Their
    project, called "bioencryption," is presented here is this PDF.
    ....  He must be a little bit excused, the link did not exist before now, but he should have checked and even known what iGEM is. We others should just have checked what we are clicking on.
    I'm still unsure of the criticism.   The link to the PDF you think was hidden is right there in my blog post.   You then link to the exact same PDF in your comment and claim it didn't really exist because you had an internet connection issue and seem to think you just discovered it and no one else read it.  It was obviously working when I wrote it and igem is the site that has it.   What is your concern?
    Ladislav Kocbach
    My concern is that this is not research with capital R. This was a group of undergraduate students taking part in a competition. And there were no Gigabytes. On slashdot they also believed it was real research. Well, it is a sort of real research, but not quite something for "Nature" ..... And there is no criticism.... beside the fact that we repeat the first man's misunderstanding.
    In short: This post should not have happened ... But we had some fun with it!
    So how exactly would this sort of thing work? How would you prevent random mutations in the genome from corrupting your data? Its very interesting in theory but I'm not sure how you'd go about it in a practical sense.

    There can't be any random mutations, it isn't a dynamic organism that has a DNA sequence capable of changing.  There are a lot of engineering issues, as you note, but when I was a young guy the big struggle in electromagnetics was once we got to 100 MHz bus speeds, because that is radio frequency then and there was a lot of concern about data integrity due to that.   Now it seems quaint but that is because it was tackled well in advance.   

    This is certainly academic and not at all practical yet.