Durable DNA data - information storage in extremophile DNA

– April 20, 2020

The most used form of data storage at the moment is silicon based. But what if we could use the DNA of microbes to store data? And why would this be important? The research by an international group of scientists, published in bioRxive (pronounced as bio-archive), describes a possible way to store information inside a microbe for an extremely long period of time.

From silicone to salinerum

In the coming decades a shortage of raw materials for silicone-based data storage is expected.  Therefore, researchers have started to look for alternative ways of storing information. The use of DNA is not a new concept, but still has its challenges. DNA is the inherited blueprint that every organism carries. It consists of an awful lot of ‘letters’ that together code for different components of the cell. DNA consists of millions of these letters per cell, but not every letter is essential to make the component it codes for. This provides opportunities. However, DNA is unfortunately also sensitive to UV-radiation and temperature fluctuations.

Extreme long-term storage

This lead to the interest in information storage in the DNA of a microbe that is able to survive extreme conditions: an extremophile. This specific publication focussed on the use of Halobacterium salinerum, a so-called halophile archaea. Halophiles are salt-loving microbes. Due to this characteristic these microbes are resistant against radiation, temperature changes and drought. There is also proof that these microbes could survive for hundreds of years in salt crystals. The published research showed how digital information could be stored inside the DNA of this extremophile, and how the microbe in turn was placed in salt crystals. This also suggests possible uses of other extremophiles in the storage of digital information for long periods of time. The research shows a radically different way of data storage. Maybe even for hundreds of years.