back to article Boffins store text message inside E coli bacteria using electromagnetic signal – and you'll never guess what it says

US scientists claim to have developed a method for storing data directly in the DNA of living bacteria cells by using a new electromagnetic technique. Although DNA – the biological source code of life – is being widely investigated as a potential digital storage medium, the vast majority of DNA-based data storage approaches …

  1. Mike 137 Silver badge

    For how long, I wonder

    "Data stored in these 'living hard drives' are stably maintained and effectively protected – over multiple cell generations – from external environments where naked DNA would otherwise be degraded"

    We'd need to translate "multiple cell generations" into hours, days, months and years before I'll be convinced. I have 30 year old hard disks that still retain their contents intact, and they've lust been stored in cardboard boxes on open shelves, and I have UV erasable EPROMs from even longer ago ditto. By comparison, living cultures seem intrinsically fragile. A whole new meaning to "my storage just died"?

    1. Def Silver badge

      Re: For how long, I wonder

      Bacteria cells typically divide no slower than once every 24 hours.

      By comparison, the average human heart muscle cell lasts about 40 years, and human brain cells are estimated to survive for over 200 years (we simply don't know what their upper limit is).

  2. Sceptic Tank
    Holmes

    I think this is a sh!t idea.

    So you're going to store your valuable data on a bacterium that someone can pick up from a doorknob? There's data security down the toilet.

    1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

      Re: It's gone viral!

      So you're going to store your valuable data on a bacterium that someone can pick up from a doorknob? There's data security down the toilet.

      It's fine. Think of it as contact tracing, without the need for 'smart' phones. Your hands may or may not have been involved in a bit more than a 3-way handshake. Alternatively, it could mean Monsanto's lawyers are seeking new pastures. Copyright, trademark or patent your personalised E.coli greeting, sue anyone it's detected in/on for IPR infringement, like wot they did with various GMO stuff.

      I think they're sponsoring storage upgrades though so it can contain at least "All your base pairs are belong to us!". Could be highly lucrative though given scope for fees + damages for simple (and involuntary) copying, along with creating potentially millions of unlicensed derivative works.

  3. phy445

    Not what I'd write...

    Given I'm from the generation that took great joy from getting the ZX Spectrums, Acorn Electrons, (even a Jupiter Ace), in WH Smiths* to write something rude on an infinite loop then "Hello world" is not what I would have written into that DNA.

    *other clueless vendors of computers are available

    1. tiggity Silver badge

      Re: Not what I'd write...

      I would probably have given a nod to the bacteria name & the Shamen in what I wrote

    2. illiad

      Re: Not what I'd write...

      HHGTG Fans??? be careful, "hello world!" may mean something awfully rude in another language and encoding!! :) :)

  4. Eclectic Man Silver badge
    Coat

    Domestos* - kills 99% of all known computer bugs ;o)

    Sorry, couldn't resist.

    Plus, How long before a SysAdmin has to admit (s)he forgot to feed the data store?

    *Other noxious to life cleaning agents are available

    I'll get my coat.

    1. Def Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: Domestos* - kills 99% of all known computer bugs ;o)

      hah, now I have visions of computer hackers about to be raided by the police running around frantically cleaning.

      1. heyrick Silver badge

        Re: Domestos* - kills 99% of all known computer bugs ;o)

        I have visions of Audrey 2... and that's the server.

        After all, the thing about living cells is that eventually they evolve.

        1. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge
          Mushroom

          Re: Domestos* - kills 99% of all known computer bugs ;o)

          Quote

          "After all, the thing about living cells is that eventually they evolve."

          Into what?

          I say we take off and nuke the site from orbit

    2. Aussie Doc Bronze badge
      Pint

      Re: Domestos* - kills 99% of all known computer bugs ;o)

      Damn eyes - I misread that as "I'll get my cat" and thought how that was better than E. Coli, perhaps.

    3. KBeee Silver badge
      Happy

      Re: Domestos* - kills 99% of all known computer bugs ;o)

      When the Domestos advert came on TV once, "Kills 99.9% of all known germs" my mate said "Yeah, but what about the unknown ones?"

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: Domestos* - kills 99% of all known computer bugs ;o)

        In a similar ad campaign here in the US (Chlorox? Lysol?), my daughter wondered how fast the surviving 0.1% reproduce, and if the offspring were also immune to it.

  5. Data Mangler

    "Hello world!" ?

    They should have stored "Now wash your hands"

    1. b0llchit Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: "Hello world!" ?

      No, no,... It will evolve and soon the message will become "goodbye world!". Then, by a spark of evolution, E. coli becomes self aware and designs a rocket to leave this world in an attempt to execute the encoded wording.

      1. Quando

        Re: "Hello world!" ?

        Has anyone checked human DNA for what our predecessors wrote in it?

        1. jake Silver badge

          Re: "Hello world!" ?

          Yes. It says "Destruction sequence activated".

      2. Tom 7 Silver badge

        Re: "Hello world!" ?

        They've been doing this for a while then - I've had an e-coli infection that tried to turn me into a rocket.

        1. b0llchit Silver badge
          Alert

          Re: "Hello world!" ?

          But you ran out of fuel before orbit was attained, apparently?

      3. stiine Silver badge

        Re: "Hello world!" ?

        From 'hello world!' to 'goodbye world!'... unlikely. Now from 'hello world!' to 'hell world!' is much more likely, and apt.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Lets get this out there!

    Memo to all Tin Foil Hat Wearers. Scientists working for Big Government have a new method to infiltrate their tracking technology directly into your body via germs. The only way to protect yourself is to wear a mask, wash hands, maintain social distancing. Bill Gates doesn't want you to know this, which is why they will try and censor this message.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Joke alert

    "Despite the advance to coding data into living cells, Professor Wang pointed out the barriers before adoption of these technologies becomes practical."

    i.e how to stop students trying to insert *their* wang into whatever appropriately shaped hole in a computer case they can find just so they can pretend to transfer data.....

  8. Paul Herber Silver badge
    Alien

    The message will be ...

    This virus brought to you via a 5G network.

  9. Adrian 4 Silver badge

    hello world ?

    I was expecting this.

    1. Scott 53

      Re: hello world ?

      That's a relief. I was expecting goatse.

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: hello world ?

        I was expecting numerous variations on I LOVE YOU ...

      2. stiine Silver badge

        Re: hello world ?

        goatse on youtube? I haven't seen that in quite some time

    2. chivo243 Silver badge
      Happy

      Re: hello world ?

      I was hoping for a Cornholio reference. Or Mr. Hankey? HiDeHo!

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: hello world ?

      I was expecting Tuck Frump

      1. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge
        Childcatcher

        Re: hello world ?

        I was expecting Prick Astley!

  10. Gob Smacked
    Thumb Up

    New meaning to versioning

    Nice to see V1.0.2 now finally being available on the mRNA string of the Pfizer vaccine...

  11. iron Silver badge

    > Soviet physicist Mikhail Neiman first proposed the idea in the 1960s, but working studies were not developed until the 21st century.

    When I was at Glasgow University, researchers there had already stored data in DNA and that was in the 20th century of 1990. I don't remember the details but I do remember the dept. heads talking about the incredible density of data storage that would be possible in the near future (hah!) thanks to this technique.

    1. jake Silver badge

      Richard P. Feynman outlined pretty much the same thing in the late '50s, in his "There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom".

      Skinner et al, at the University of Arizona, managed retrievable data storage on DNA in 2017.

      But apparently this is the first time someone's managed read/write capability within living cells.

  12. Danny 2 Silver badge

    Data repository

    Up your bum!

  13. Jonathan Richards 1 Silver badge

    What could possibly go wrong? A. Just look around you.

    Bacteria quite literally chop and [ex]change chunks of DNA all the time [1]. It's only because most mutations are deleterious that E. coli isn't like one of those super-evolving life forms from the HHGTTG. So I see two problems - (a) each instantiation of a datastore (as opposed to a functional gene) in a cell will be subject to random changes considerably more frequent than e.g. radiation-induced mutation, and (b) a segment of a cute cat video gets spliced into an actual gene, and turns out to encode for the Ravenous Bug-blatter Beast of Traal.

    [1] Horizontal Gene Transfer

    1. TRT Silver badge

      Re: What could possibly go wrong? A. Just look around you.

      What's that? The Hitch-hikers Guide to Horizontal Gene Transfer?

    2. jake Silver badge

      Re: What could possibly go wrong? A. Just look around you.

      Horizontal Gene Transfer doesn't just happen at the bacteriological level. I have Zinfandel (Primitivo) grapes with what appears to be genes from eucalyptus weeds embedded in their DNA. So does what used to be the Ravenswood Winery here in Sonoma ... I didn't do it, not on purpose anyway, because I don't like the flavo(u)r of VapoRub in my grapes, nor in my plonk. I continue to grow, press, and ferment a couple rows of them, as a favo(u)r for UC Davis

      I have no idea what Constellation Brands is planning to do with Ravenswood's acreage now that they've kicked Joel out. Probably squander it, just like they did the world-class tasting room. Fucking corporate assholes.

  14. Cynic_999

    Hmmm

    So the idea that the vaccinations contain something sinister that can be remotely programmed via 5G electromagnetic signals is not so far-fetched after all ...

    It could also form the basis for the ultimate "test and trace" application. The virii can be encoded with a full history of where they've been (encoded in blockchain format of course).

  15. jake Silver badge

    amfM will now ...

    ... spontaneously combust.

  16. TeeCee Gold badge
    Coat

    Obvious use case.

    You have my resignation, it's somewhere in that turd I left on your desk.

  17. Securitymoose

    I predicted this four years ago

    I wrote a satirical sci-fi about it. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Fifth-Correction-Provocations-Continue-Book-ebook/dp/B00XTIENDK

    Wake up Science, you're a bit slow!

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Messages already there

    Once our scientist figure out how to read the messages encoded in our DNA like they are trying to put in, they will find the story of how and why humans have traveled space and other scientific information that we weren't ready for, until we could read it. (spoiler, we are preprogramed metal gathering tools that live a tiny fraction of the time our designers live. they'll be here in the next couple thousand years to harvest)

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