Research carried out at Northwestern University in the United States has advanced a new method to take advantage of the advantages of DNA in the storage of digital information. It manages to complete the registration in a few minutes, when the most advanced current techniques require more than 10 hours. In addition, it facilitates the registration of neurons and could catapult brain research into a new era.
The ADN (deoxyribonucleic acid) contains the genetic instructions used in the development and functioning of all living organisms, as well as being responsible for hereditary transmission. However, it could also be extremely useful in solving serious problems of information storage facing today’s society, and that will become more acute in the coming decades.
The problem of data storage
The amount of data that have occurred since the advent of the digital revolution has no parallel with any other stage in the history of humanity: by 2025, it is estimated that we will generate an amount of information daily that would be equivalent to filling almost 213 million DVDs every 24 hours. At this frenetic pace, it is urgent to find better alternatives that guarantee the protection of data in the long term.
As in many other fields, nature expresses itself more effectively than man-made solutions: our genetic code it is millions of times more efficient at storing data than the methodologies currently offered by computing. Despite this, so far it has not been possible to overcome certain barriers that prevent further development of this information storage alternative.
To store data in DNA extremely slow chemical synthesis is required outside the human body. State-of-the-art intracellular recordings are used, but as all the mechanical steps of protein expression must be respected, the process can take almost half a day and is also very expensive.
Faster, cheaper and more efficient
According to a Press release, American researchers have made a major breakthrough that streamlines the process and makes it cheaper. According to the new study, recently published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, it will now take only minutes to store huge amounts of data in our genetic code.
Unlike other technologies, which urgently need protein synthesis, the new approach is based on the recording of environmental changes: it is capable of detecting minimal variations in the environment, such as changes in the concentration of certain substances, to use them in the “Recording” of data in DNA. The enzymes used work like old recording tapes, continuously recording all the changes that are happening.
Know more about the brain
In addition to simplifying the way store digital data in DNAstore digital data in DNA, the new technique could also mark a before and after in terms of brain research, when used to record the activity of neurons.
Current technologies have made important advances, but enormous efforts are still required to be able to study the entire invertebrate brain. Consequently, the complete record of a human brain seems an unattainable feat, considering its high complexity.
Now, the use of DNA could remove these limitations: scientists would be able to “Record” the activity of an innumerable number of neurons at the same time and in minutes, accessing data that today are unattainable and expanding the frontiers of neuroscience research.
Recording Temporal Signals with Minutes Resolution Using Enzymatic DNA Synthesis. Namita Bhan, Alec Callisto, Jonathan Strutz, Joshua Glaser, Reza Kalhor, Edward S. Boyden, George Church, Konrad Kording and Keith E. J. Tyo. Journal of the American Chemical Society (2021).DOI:https://doi.org/10.1021/jacs.1c07331
Photo: Braňo en Unsplash.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.