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!


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