In the news: WIT’s PMBRC and TSSG research on DNA storage

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PMBRC labs

PMBRC labs

Researchers from WIT have now discovered a method of storing the data and then retrieving it when needed, using bacteria that holds the encoded DNA

Researchers in TSSG and PMBRC in Waterford Institute of Technology have made headlines with their pioneering research on DNA Molecular Storage Systems.

Up until this point, scientists working on DNA storage have focused on encoding data into DNA using various encoding algorithms. However, a question remains as to how this information can be archived into a library. The team of researchers from WIT have now discovered a method of storing the data and then retrieving it when needed, using bacteria that holds the encoded DNA.

Scientists first encoded a message – “Hello World” - into plasmids (double stranded DNA) and stored them in Novablue, a strain of the E.Coli non-motile bacteria. To ensure accuracy and to control possible contamination, the Novablue bacteria are placed in an area, where they surrounded the Novablue in streptomycin which is lethal to the bacteria.

In order to retrieve the data, motile bacteria HB101, that is resistant to streptomycin is released to conjugate with Novablue, and retrieve the data-carrying plasmids. During the data transfer, Novablue also passes on its resistance to tetracycline to the HB101 allowing it to safely travel to the data reader where researchers can extract the plasmids. The successful movement of the bacteria with the encoded plasmids is visible due to a fluorescent protein attached to the message making the entire cell glow.

Why this research? The world is creating new data at an alarming rate with over 16 zettabytes (a zettabyte is one billion terabytes) of data being produced globally each year which is only going to increase. As a result of this research, it is predicted this method of data storage will create new forms of data centres of the future. Besides this, other applications include storing information of health records within the human body for healthcare uses, or new forms of food sustainability and traceability. There are clear challenges in reaching the desired stage of practical uses such as the speed in which the bacteria travel to the extraction point and data protection.

It’s a step forward on this exciting path of solving the world’s future data storage issues.

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