Global data production is expected to reach 463 exabytes per day by 2025 – the equivalent of 212,765,957 DVDs per day, according to the World Economic Forum.
Our existing storage systems, which can only contain as much as 0 and 1 and consume huge amounts of energy and space, cannot serve us forever, putting us on top of a serious storage problem that can only be deteriorate over time. DNA-based data storage can come in handy as an alternative to hard drives, as our genetic code is millions of times more efficient at storing information than current solutions. Now, in a breakthrough, researchers from Northwestern University have developed a new method to record information in DNA that takes minutes, not hours or days.
Researchers have used a new enzyme system to synthesize DNA that records rapidly changing environmental signals directly into its sequences, and this method could revolutionize the way scientists study and record neurons in the brain.
Record faster and higher resolution
To record intracellular molecular and digital data in DNA, scientists now rely on multiparticle processes that combine new information with existing DNA sequences. This means that for accurate recording, they must stimulate and suppress the expression of specific proteins, which can take more than 10 hours.
Researchers in the new study have suggested that they could speed up this process using a new method they call “Template-free time recording using Tdt for local environmental signals” or TURTLES. In this way, they would synthesize completely new DNA instead of copying its template. The method allowed the data to be written into the genetic code in minutes.
“Nature is good at copying DNA, but we really wanted to be able to write DNA from scratch,” said Northwest Engineering Professor Keith A. Tio, the newspaper’s senior author, in a press release. “The way to do this ex vivo (outside the body) involves slow, chemical synthesis. Our method is much cheaper to record information because the enzyme that synthesizes DNA can be directly manipulated. The most modern intracellular recordings are still slower because they require mechanical steps of protein expression in response to signals, unlike our enzymes, which are all expressed prematurely and can store information continuously. “
This could be a potential solution the explosive growth of data storage needsas well as performing brain research ahead. “This is really exciting evidence of the concept of methods that could one day allow us to study the interactions between millions of cells at once,” said Namita Bhan, co-author and postdoctoral fellow at Tio’s lab.
“If you look at how current technology scales over time, it could be decades before we can even record a whole cockroach brain with existing technology — not to mention tens of billions of neurons in the human brain,” said co-author Alec Callisto. who is also a graduate student in Tyo’s lab. “So this is something we really want to speed up.”
Researchers are currently working on the genomic infrastructure and cellular techniques needed for reliable intracellular recording, and hope that other engineers will be interested in the method and use it to record signals for their research.