Beyond cloud storage: a new method for data storage in molecules without using energy

An image to illustrate cloud storage
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A new method for data storage in molecules within using energy could enable alternatives to cloud storage or DNA-based data storage.

The DNA-based data storage uses oligopeptides to encode data. Brian Cafferty, the first author of the paper, gave an analogy: “Think storing the contents of the New York Public Library with a teaspoon of protein.”

Beyond cloud storage

The University of Harvard writes: “Books can burn. Computers get hacked. DVDs degrade. Technologies to store information—ink on paper, computers, CDs and DVDs, and even DNA—continue to improve. And yet, threats as simple as water and as complex as cyber-attacks can still corrupt our records.”

“As the data boom continues to boom, more and more information gets filed in less and less space. Even the cloud—whose name promises opaque, endless space—will eventually run out of space, can’t thwart all hackers, and gobbles up energy. Now, a new way to store information could stably house data for millions of years, lives outside the hackable internet, and, once written, uses no energy. All you need is a chemist, some cheap molecules, and your precious information.”

Although the tool may not replace the cloud, the filing system is an alternative to biological storage tools such as DNA. DNA is small in comparison to computer chips. Nonetheless, in the molecular world, the macromolecule is small. Plus DNA synthesis for data storage requires skilled, repetitive labour.

Cafferty explained: “We set out to explore a strategy that does not borrow directly from biology. We instead relied on techniques common in organic and analytical chemistry, and developed an approach that uses small, low molecular weight molecules to encode information.”

How it works

The team can produce small molecules to encode multiple cat videos at a time using just one synthesis, which shows that the approach is less labour intensive and cheaper than a DNA-based data storage method.

They used oligopeptides (two or more peptides bonded). These are common, stable and smaller than DNA, RNA, and proteins.

Security

The paper states: “Oligopeptides have stabilities of hundreds or thousands of years under suitable conditions. The hardy molecules could endure without light or oxygen, in high heat and drought. And, unlike the cloud, which hackers can access from their favourite easy chair, the molecular storage can only be accessed in person. Even if a thief finds the data stash, a little chemistry is needed to retrieve the code.”

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