The Future of Portable Data Storage?


You kids these days have it easy. I can remember hauling Jaz disks – as well as a Jaz drive and a PCMCIA SCSI card – around in my carry-on luggage, just to get a decent amount of portable storage with me to client sites. Now, of course, memory sticks and SD cards and the ubiquitous keychain USB storage devices make it easy to haul gigabytes around in your shirt pocket, and web workers no longer have to imitate pack mules.

But the age of miniaturization is far from over. Alignment-Based Approach for Durable Data Storage into Living Organisms is the title of a paper from a group of Japanese researchers that appeared recently in the journal Biotechnology Progress. Using sophisticated genetic engineering techniques and redundant data storage and error-correcting coding inspired by magnetic media (think of it as RAID for biotechnology), the researchers encoded the message “E=mc^2 1905!” into a population of the bacterium Bacillus subtilus. They were later able to breed descendants of the original bacteria and recover the encoded message.

Of course, there are some practical hurdles to overcome before bacteria-based storage replace electronics in our daily work. The price and size of DNA sequencers will need to drop considerably; it doesn’t do much good for the storage media to be microscopic if the reader takes up a large desk. And while the sterotypical geek with low social skills has plenty of places to store a population of bacteria, more fastidious web workers will need some way to make sure that washing their hands after lunch doesn’t destroy the proposal that’s due to the client that afternoon!


Mike Gunderloy

The neat thing about this particular paper (as opposed to some other researchers who have done similar things in the past) is that they used multiple redundant insertions of the data to make a sort of biological RAID system, so it was mutation-resistant across multiple generations of descent.

And alas, I still have a pile of zip disks in the closet myself :)


I think Darwin would work against you. A few mutations and there goes your data. Speaking of SCSI and generational mutations, I’ve recently come back around to macs and was looking for a way to hook up my collection of SCSI gear (to include the trusty ZIP drive; does that make me even more crusty than you?) and I could not find one person in two apple stores that even knew what SCSI was. Sigh… I can’t be that old

Javier Marti

Hi guys.
I am Javier, the founder of, a community of online amateur writers. We write about the future of everything. I would like to invite you guys to write an article on our website, perhaps based on what you mentioned there. Maybe you can write “The future of biological integrated memory”? It is up to you, you choose the subject.
You would get a link back when you link to your own article, if you wish.
You can even re-use some of what you’ve written here, in the last part of the article, “your view and comments”. That would save you time and still be interesting for readers.
Don’t underestimate this opportunity!
Look forward to hearing from you

Best regards
Javier Marti

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