Germ of an Idea: Hong Kong Researchers Store Data in Bacteria

For years our data storage capabilities have been doubling (or better) in capacity every year or two. When I started computing back in the early 1980’s, I was loading programs on my Atari 800 from a data tape drive. As I graduated to my Commodore 64C, I started using 5 1/4 inch floppy disks.

In 1991 my Hyundai 386 16mhz PC came with a 100 megabyte hard drive. That’s megabyte, not gigabyte. I didn’t get a 1gb drive until 1995 when I bought my Dell Pentium 90 PC.

In 2011, most of us are buying one terabyte drives or higher on a regular basis. I personally have about 10TB of storage at my home studio and at the Livid Lobster studios we’re at 20TB or better.

What amazes me is that right now, it would appear that there is no real end in site for increased capacities. However, scientists are predicting that we may soon reach that undefined limit as we reach the physical boundaries for magnetic media.

Over the past decade, engineers have been researching various forms of data storage. Optical storage has significantly increased in capacity with Blu-ray discs. Raid arrays and SAS networks have allowed us to daisy-chain clusters of hard drives and create virtual hard drives with monumental capacities. I even read an article once where scientists were trying to store data three-dimensionally in crystals.

Researchers at The Chinese University of Hong Kong have been experimenting with storing data in… bacteria.  Yeah, bacteria.  They’ve managed so far to store 90GB of data in one gram of cells. The data is also encrypted and compressed using DNA sequence shuffling.

The research team believes that they can not only store text, but photo, audio and video data as well. They’re continuing to test but so far have proven that they can convert and store the data as DNA as well as retrieve it with no loss of data integrity.

Where will this go?  Time will tell.  I’m guessing that since our bodies are loaded with both good and bad bacteria we may be able to use portions of our body for data storage.  Maybe not.  I’d hate to eat a piece of cheese and completely wipe out my family vacation pictures…



  1. Profile photo of Dave Curlee says

    Yeah. I was thinking the same thing. Someone could bio-engineer a virus that looks for bacteria in the body that has signs of containing data, attach another bacterial cell to that cluster and corrupt the data. Or, invade and kill some of the cells and corrupt it.

    Heck, just think of the data corruption that could occur if you were to eat too much yogurt…. :)