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Students turn E.coli bacteria into data storage

The students have so far developed both storage and encryption systems for the organisms

Students at Hong Kong's Chinese University are working on storing data on E.coli bacterium.
Students at Hong Kong's Chinese University are working on storing data on E.coli bacterium.

A group of students at Hong Kong's Chinese University are working towards being able to store massive amounts of data inside E.coli bacterium, better known for causing serious food-poisoning, according to AFP.

"This means you will be able to keep large datasets for the long term in a box of bacteria in the refrigerator," said Aldrin Yim, a student instructor at Hong Kong's Chinese University's biostorage project.

Four years ago, a research team at Japan's Keio University revealed that they had successfully encoded the equation that represents Einstein's theory of relativity, E=MC2, in the DNA of a common soil bacterium.

The Hong Kong researchers have worked out how to store far more complex data in the bacterium by compressing the data, splitting it into chunks and distributing it between different bacterial cells. This process overcomes storage capacity limits. The students are also now able to map the bacterium's DNA so the information stored in it can be found easily.

The students say that images, music, text and even video could be stored within the E.coli bacterium and because the organisms are so small, one gram of the bacteria could store the same amount of information as 450 2,000 gigabyte hard disks.

The Hong Kong students have also developed a three-tier security system to encode the data stored in the bacterium, the system also includes built-in checks to make sure that mutations within the organisms do not affect the data stored. The team has coined a word for this field, biocryptography.

"Bacteria can't be hacked," said Allen Yu, a student instructor. "All kinds of computers are vulnerable to electrical failures or data theft. But bacteria are immune from cyber attacks. You can safeguard the information."