Jul 17, 2019 | Updated: 11:17 AM EDT

A New Way to Store Information in Molecules for Millions of Years

May 01, 2019 09:39 AM EDT

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A New Way to Store Information in Molecules for Millions of Years
(Photo : Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay)

For many years, technologies has been advancing in the way they store information in computers, CDs, DVDs, and even DNA. Despite these advancements, threats as simple as water and as complex as cyber-attacks can still corrupt the records. Now, a new way to store information could stably house data for millions of years. It lives outside the hackable internet, and once written, uses no energy. All that is needed is a chemist, some cheap molecules and your valuable information.

The first author that gave a concise description of the paper, Brian Cafferty, described the new methods and a postdoctoral scholar in the lab of George Whitesides, the Woodford L. And Ann A. Flowers University Professor at Harvard University. They performed the work in collaboration with Milan Mrksich and his group at Northwestern University.

Cafferty said that at least at this stage, they do not see this technique competing with existing methods of data storage. Instead, they perceived it as complementary to those technologies and, as an initial objective, well suited for long-term data storage.

Even when Cafferty's chemical tool might not replace the cloud, the filling system provides an enticing alternative to biological storage tools like DNA. Recently, scientists discovered how to manipulate our loyal guardian of genetic information to encode more than just eye color. It is now easy for researchers to synthesize DNA strands to record any information such as cat videos, diet trends, and cooking tutorials, whether they should is another question.

But when it is acceptable to compare DNA to computer chips, the macromolecule is massive in the molecule world. And DNA synthesis needs skilled and often repetitive labor. If each message needs to be designed from scratch, macromolecule storage could become long and expensive work.

Explaining further, Cafferty said that they set out to explore a strategy that does not borrow directly from biology. Instead, they relied on techniques in organic and analytical chemistry and developed an approach that uses small, low molecule weight molecules to encode information.

The team can produce enough small molecule with one synthesis to encode multiple cat videos at a time, making this approach less labor intensive and cheaper than one based on DNA. The group selected oligopeptides for their low-weight molecule which are typically stable, and smaller than DNA, RNA or proteins. Oligopeptides also vary in mass, depending on their number and type of amino acids.

Caggerty's scalable molecular library is stable, zero-energy, and corruption-resistant option for future information storage. Even when books burn, or computers get hacked, or DVDs fails, whack-a-mole full of information could persist in reminding future humankind how much we love a good cat video.

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