Tech Transfer eNews Blog

Brown researchers harnessing biological molecules to store massive amounts of data


By Jesse Schwartz
Published: July 10th, 2019

A team of researchers at Brown University are using biological molecules to create storage systems that could hold massive amounts of data.

It is anticipated that by 2040 the world will have produced as much as 3 septillion (or 3 followed by 24 zeros) bits of data. There simply may not be enough chip-grade silicon on the planet to produce enough semiconductor chips to store and process that much data.

While DNA molecules are known to be able to store vast amounts of biological information, the Brown researchers have focused on artificial metabolomes — arrays of liquid mixtures containing amino acids, sugars and other types of small molecules. They have shown that it is possible to encode kilobyte-scale image files into metabolite solutions and retrieve the data back out again.

“This is a proof-of-concept that we hope makes people think about using wider ranges of molecules to store information,” says Brown researcher Jacob Rosenstein. “In some situations, small molecules like the ones we have used here can have even greater information density than DNA.”

Using artificial metabolomes they assembled themselves, the researchers were able to successfully encode and retrieve a variety of image files up to 2 kilobytes. While that’s not big compared to the capacity of modern storage systems, the team says there’s plenty of potential for scaling up. The number of bits in a metabolome increases with the number of metabolites contained there, and there are thousands of known metabolites available for use.

“Using molecules for computation is a tremendous opportunity,” says Brenda Rubenstein, a member of the research team. “We are only starting to figure out how to take advantage of it.”

Source: News from Brown

Posted under: Tech Transfer e-News

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