Bacterial Hard Drives in our Cells

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Bacterial Hard Drives in our Cells

Hong Kong researchers store data in bacteria
by Judith Evans
Yahoo News 9th January 2011

In his books Nigel Kerner has put forward the hypothesis that mitochondria within living cells may well be the mechanism used by the Greys for interception into the human genome. Mitochondria are the cell’s energy producing factories, their job, in basic terms, is to convert food into energy. The intriguing fact about mitochondria is that that they contain their own DNA. The nucleus of any living cell contains the DNA of the organism it is a part of, but the mitochondria within that cell have their own DNA supply. Thus each living cell has two sources of DNA within it, nuclear and mitochondrial.


Diagram of mitochondria


There is a strong hypothesis currently accepted that mitochondria are the direct descendants of bacteria that entered primitive cells in a number of infections. It is proposed that among billions of such infective events a few could have led to the development of stable, symbiotic associations between these hosts and bacterial parasites. However the classes of “bacteria” that took part in these “infections” have not yet been established. Thus mitochondria can be seen as organelles that are independent of the cell and independent of the cell’s own genetic information contained within the nucleus.

Nigel Kerner’s research has led him to the conclusion that mitochondrial DNA may well be programmable by influences external to the living organism, influences that can use the independent key pad it provides within the cell to affect the genetic prospectus of nuclear DNA.

Scientists in Hong Kong have discovered the enormous potential of bacteria to work as a hard drive to record huge amounts of data in a form that is not hackable. Mitochondria is believed to be a descendant of bacteria and could therefore do the same.

Biochemistry students from the Shool of Life Sciences at the Chinese University of Hong Kong


Biostorage — the art of storing and encrypting information in living organisms — is a young field, having existed for about a decade.

In 2007, a team at Japan’s Keio University said they had successfully encoded the equation that represents Einstein’s theory of relativity, E=MC2, in the DNA of a common soil bacterium.

They pointed out that because bacteria constantly reproduce, a group of the single-celled organisms could store a piece of information for thousands of years.

But the Hong Kong researchers have leapt beyond this early step, developing methods to store more complex data and starting to overcome practical problems which have lent weight to sceptics who see the method as science fiction.

The group has developed a method of compressing data, splitting it into chunks and distributing it between different bacterial cells, which helps to overcome limits on storage capacity. They are also able to “map” the DNA so information can be easily located.

This opens up the way to storing not only text, but images, music, and even video within cells.

As a storage method it is extremely compact — because each cell is minuscule, the group says that one gram of bacteria could store the same amount of information as four hundred and fifty 2,000 gigabyte hard disks.

They have also developed a three-tier security fence to encode the data, which may come as welcome news to US diplomats who have seen their thoughts splashed over the Internet thanks to WikiLeaks.

“Bacteria can’t be hacked,” points out Allen Yu, another student instructor. “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 team have even coined a word for this field — biocryptography — and the encoding mechanism contains built-in checks to ensure that mutations in some bacterial cells do not corrupt the data as a whole.

The Hong Kong group’s work may have a more immediate application. The techniques they use — removing DNA from bacterial cells, manipulating them using enzymes and returning them to a new cell — are similar to those used to create genetically modified foods.

But rather than changing the building blocks of an organism, the Hong Kong group allows extra information to piggyback on the DNA of the cell, after checking their changes against a master database to make sure they do not have accidental toxic effects.

Their work could enable extra information to be added to a genetically modified crop in the form of a “bio barcode”, Chan said.”For example, a company that makes a GM tomato that grows extra large with a gene that promotes growth — on top of that we can actually encode additional information like safety protocols, things that are not directly related to the biological system.”

“The field is getting popular because of the energy crisis, environmental pollution, climate change. They are thinking that a biological system will be a future solution to those — as alternative energy sources, as a remedy for pollution. For these, micro-organisms are the obvious choice,” Chan said.

One type of bacterium, Deinococcus radiodurans, can even survive nuclear radiation. “Bacteria are everywhere: they can survive on things that are unthinkable to humans. So we can make use of this,” Chan said.

So is it possible that a home computer could one day consist of a dish filled with micro-organisms?


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