A New Use For Bacteria? Encrypt it With Data

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Think your USB drive is small? Well here’s some news. A team of students at Hong Kong’s Chinese University may have discovered a way to encrypt large chunks of computer data into a strain of microscopic E. coli bacteria, with one gram capable of holding as much information as 450 individual 2TB hard drives. That’s shelves upon shelves of electronic files, distilled down smaller than a petri dish.

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The AFP reports that the team of 11 students, 2010 gold medalists in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)’s prestigious iGEM biotechnology competition, have successfully found a way to embed text, images, music and video into the bacteria’s cells. A giant leap, especially when considering that as recently as 2007 a team of Japanese researchers were only able to embed a cell with a single line of code (Einstein’s “E=MC2″).

Biostorage — or the art of embedding living organisms with data — presents other innate technological advantages. “Bacteria can’t be hacked,” says Allen Yu, a student instructor who participated in the study. “All kinds of computers are vulnerable to electrical failures or data theft. But bacteria are immune from cyber attacks. You can safeguard the information.” The students are reported to have even encrypted the cells with a three-tier safeguard system to deter hackers.

E. coli has gotten a bad rap over the years, but more recently it’s shown promise in unlikely fields of research, such as potentially being harvested to produce green-friendly biodiesel fuel.

While the practical implications of microscopic storage technology for everyday use are yet to be seen, it can be safety assumed that trying to find your misplaced thumb drive will prove to be much more difficult.

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