Preserve a message for millennia -- in bacteria

For people who want to ensure their words last for their progeny, Japanese scientists have found a way to put a message literally into genes.

A Japanese research team said this week it had developed a technology for storing digital data in the DNA of bacteria, which unlike most living organisms can survive for millennia in the right conditions.

Each hay bacillus bacterium can store two megabits—the equivalent of 1,6-million Roman letters. The scientists can take out the microscopic implants in a laboratory and read them so they appear as ordinary text.

The team at Keio University’s Institute for Advanced Biosciences said the technology needs to be perfected, but that it is optimistic about its future uses.

“If I wanted to store my personal diary in these live bacteria and take it with me to my grave, then my story can live for thousands and thousands of years,” head researcher Yoshiaki Ohashi said with a laugh.

In practical terms, the technology could eventually benefit companies such as pharmaceutical makers that want to “stamp” their brand.

“In doing so, the company can detect piracy and protect its patent. They can also store information at one specific area of the gene and retrieve it from there,” Ohashi said.

The researchers insert the data at four different places so that even if one is disrupted, there will be a back-up.

But the team said more work is needed before the technology can be marketed.
In particular, the scientists need to ensure that the DNA will not be altered as live bacteria naturally evolve.

Hay bacillus bacteria are generally found in soil or decaying matter and are especially resistant to extreme weather.—AFP

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