A few years ago, researcher were using DNA to store information. At the time, the prototype technology yielded the highest information density ever recorded in a medium. But, for a team of researchers at France’s Institut Charles Sadron and Aix-Marseille University, that was not enough. The team has coded binary data into the strand of a synthetic polymer. The polymer can store 1 zettabyte of information in 10 grams of matter. In comparison, the best hardware technologies of today need at least one metric ton of cobalt alloy for the same storage.
The method is similar to how information is stored in DNA which is also a polymer. However, unlike DNA which has four letters: G, A, T and C organized in pairs, the polymer stores data in binary format. DNA never evolved to become the best possible molecular information storage system. In fact, in living organism, redundancy and duplication is required for DNA to maintaining the genetic integrity of living organism over millions of years in an environment with pollutants and ultraviolet radiation from the Sun. Also DNA is able to easily unfold itself which simplifies copying and reproduction. For a data storage system in a controlled environment, the duplication can be removed, leaving only the highly optimized and efficient information storing features.
The team decided to create an artificial polymer from the ground up for the sole purpose of storing information. The results outdo DNA. The system is also spectacular at copying information. In fact, George Church professor at Harvard, used this method to produce 70 million copies of his book. All copies were held in a drop of liquid.The current limiting feature of the technology is the encoding time. It takes a few days to encode 10 MB of data. The data can be read relatively quickly using full genome DNA testing technologies.
The original paper can be read here: http://www.nature.com/ncomms/2015/150526//ncomms8237/pdf/ncomms8237.pdf