Plant-based digital data storage
Plant-based digital data storage is a futuristic view that proposes storing digital data in plants and seeds. The first practical implication showed the possibility of using plants as storage media for digital data. New approaches for data archiving are required due to the constant increase in digital data production and the lack of a capacitive, low maintenance storage medium.
The first practical idea about using plants as storage media was proposed by Karin Fister and Iztok Fister Jr. in 2013 when the two were still undergraduate students at the University of Maribor (Slovenia). They wondered where to permanently store all of their digital information on a computer. The two wrote on their website "Why can't we put all the data in the history of mankind in one stone, near spruce or oak...and that was the click." Their first philosophical report that proposed this out-of-the-box-thinking was published in 2014.
With the help of two biotechnologists, they encoded a basic computer program in Python Programming language into Nicotiana benthamiana. They first encoded a “Hello World” computer program into a DNA code, synthesized it and cloned this Coded DNA into a plasmid-vector to be used further for transformation into Nicotiana benthamiana plants. The encoded program was reconstructed from the resulting seedlings with 100% accuracy by showing “Hello World” on the computer screen. Their approach demonstrated that artificially encoded data can be stored and multiplied within plants without affecting their vigor and fertility. It also takes a step forward from storing data into a naked DNA molecule. It is inherent in progeny and authentically reproducible while the reduced metabolism of the seeds provides an additional protection for encoded DNA archives.
That was the first practical implication of utilizing a multi-cellular, eukaryotic organism for storing digital data in the world. It goes beyond plant genome manipulations for biotechnological research and plant breeding. It takes the advantage of multi-cellular organisms and serves to propagate the encoded information in daughter cells. The host organism is able to grow and multiply with the embedded information, and every cell of the organism contains a copy of the encoded information; therefore, it avoids the costs of synthetic production of multiple copies of the same encoded information. Moreover, in contrast to naked DNA, which can be affected by unfavorable environmental conditions like excessive temperature, in desiccation/re-hydration conditions, DNA stored in a seed is protected against alterations and degradation over time without the need of any active maintenance. Insertion of short computer programs into plants could also serve to provide a detailed description of a given variety, since the need for such labeling has already been expressed. As for manipulating and storing archives, their approach leverages a new look at accessing, browsing and reading information. 1g of DNA could store exabytes of data and it is a huge, capacitive storage medium. DNA protected within a seed of a living plant could be easy to access when hand-held readers will become a reality.
- Ferrari, M., C’è un computer in quel faggio, Focus, April 2016, pp. 21–24.
- O'Neill, S., I plant memories in seeds, New Scientist, Volume 229, Issue 3056, 16 January 2016, doi:10.1016/S0262-4079(16)30130-0
- Storing data into living plant
- Ljubic, K., Fister Jr., I. How to store Wikipedia into a forest tree: initial idea, Msivism 2014, pp. 45–52. 2014
- Fister, K., Fister, I., Murovec, J., Bohanec, B. DNA labelling of varieties covered by patent protection: a new solution for managing intellectual property rights in the seed industry. Transgenic Research, Article in press, 2016.doi:10.1007/s11248-016-9981-1