Global data production will exceed 463 exabytes per day by 2025, according to the World Economic Forum. Our existing data storage systems, which require massive amounts of energy and space, are limited, leaving us on the brink of a catastrophic data storage dilemma. Since our genetic code is generally much more efficient at storing information than existing approaches, DNA-based data storage could be a viable replacement for hard drives.
Researchers at Northwestern University have introduced a original approach to store DNA information which only takes a few minutes.
The team of researchers used a revolutionary enzymatic approach to produce DNA that stores rapidly changing environmental clues directly in its sequences. This technique has the potential to transform the way scientists analyze and record neurons in the brain.
Scientists rely on multipart mechanisms that integrate new information with existing DNA sequences to record intracellular molecular and numerical data about DNA. This implies that for correct recording they must activate and inhibit the expression of particular proteins for correct recording, which can take up to 10 hours.
The researchers predicted that using a new method known as “time-sensitive untimed recording using Tdt for local environmental signals”, or TURTLES, they could speed up the process. So instead of copying a DNA template, they would create an entirely new DNA. The procedure only took a few minutes to record the information in the genetic code.
“Nature is good at copying DNA, but we really wanted to be able to write DNA from scratch,” said Keith EJ Tyo, lead author of the article. “The ex vivo (outside the body) way of doing it involves slow chemical synthesis. Our method is much cheaper to write information because the enzyme that synthesizes DNA can be directly manipulated. State-of-the-art intracellular recordings are even slower because they require the mechanical steps of protein expression in response to signals, as opposed to our enzymes which are all expressed in advance and can store information continuously.
This could be a viable approach to cope with rapidly expanding data storage needs while advancing brain research. “This is a really exciting proof of concept for methods that could one day allow us to study the interactions between millions of cells simultaneously,” said Namita Bhan, co-author of the study.
“If you look at how current technology evolves over time, it could be decades before we can even register an entire cockroach brain simultaneously with existing technologies, not to mention the tens of billions of neurons in the human brain. “said co-author Alec Callisto. “So this is something that we would really like to speed up.”
Currently, researchers are making progress towards the genomic infrastructure and cellular techniques necessary for reliable intracellular recording, and they believe other engineers will keenly use the method to capture signals for their own study.