Protein nanotech in next gen storage

Protein nanotech in next gen storage

Summary: The magnetic spots in disk storage are already smaller than semiconductor feature sizes, and patterned media and heat-assisted recording will allow 10 TB 2.5" disks in a few years.

TOPICS: Storage, Hardware

The magnetic spots in disk storage are already smaller than semiconductor feature sizes, and patterned media and heat-assisted recording will allow 10 TB 2.5" disks in a few years. But then what? Optical protein-based recording could be the answer.

Scientists at a Osaka University lab have demonstrated a photochemical technique for assembling a specific protein on a patterned surface for a rapid method of of recording, reading and erasing of information.

The patterned surface can be manufactured using quantum dot 605-streptavidin conjugates. Under a medium wave UVB laser, the conjugate fluoresces, distinguishing a 1 from a zero.

quantum-dot-protein-storage.jpg Image courtesy of the Institute of Scientific and Industrial Research (ISIR), Osaka University

Mainstream technology This isn't like holographic storage, which is theoretically irresistible but practically almost impossible. Much of today's disk infrastructure - servo, signal processing, stepper - and some of the planned future technology - patterned media and HAMR lasers - is directly applicable to optical protein storage.

The underlying technology is widely used, as the team notes:

Protein patterning on solid surfaces is a topic of significant importance in the fields of biosensors, diagnostic assays, cell adhesion technologies, and biochip microarrays.

The importance of utilizing existing technology, representing thousands of man-years of refinement and billions of dollars of investment, is key. Thousands of engineers know how to work with current technology, speeding adaptation of new techniques.

The Storage Bits take Few appreciate how much the exponential increase in storage areal density has fostered computing advances. As Moore's law has driven processing power, the advance of storage technology has - just barely - enabled massive data stores and rates to feed insatiable processors.

Optical protein storage should be much more stable than magnetic storage as well. Magnetic bits are subject to many kinds of degradation, while proteins can be very persistent, as the prions causing Mad Cow disease have demonstrated.

Much work remains before protein storage sees the light of a commercial introduction. Its importance is that it gives us another tool to advance our ability to preserve and access the information that makes our culture and civilization possible. Professor Tetsuro Majima and his team at ISIR deserve our respect for this breakthrough.

Comments welcome, as always.

Topics: Storage, Hardware

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  • viruses?

    Perhaps too far in advance for any testing, but I wonder if this places a new spin on the term "computer virus". Imagine somehow "infecting" a hard drive with a pathogen which feeds on proteins. Your machine would no longer need to be turned on to be destroyed. Plus, the hard drive and/or computer might become a carrier for disease.

    I would like to be wrong, but wouldn't the usage of biological contructs - proteins - in the manufacture of storage cause that storage to be vulnerable to biologically-based risks?

    I would love multi-TB hard drives to be small and affordable. I just want them to be reliable and secure as well.

    Not too long ago, America created the Atomic bomb and dropped two of them on Japan, ending years of warfare with Japan. Now, multiple foreign states are striving to obtain this same technology for use - possibly - against the United States and other countries. It is amazing how new technologies end up hurting us in the end sometimes.
    • viral infection of electronics?

      How would a virus ever get access to the media, since this would obviously not be exposed? This tech would probably not be disk-based by the time it's released but more like solid-state storage with an electronic-to-media (said media not really biological anyway) interface that would effectively mean that only electronic signals (after conversion to photons) could interact with the media- some kind of bio-based attack would have to attack the packaging of the device first, meaning if the packaging isn't complex DNA-like protein material, it's not vulnerable. Of course, as gentech advances, we're going to see much more sophisticated biothreats that might enable this kind of attack, but I really think we're going to have much, much greater concerns...
  • RE: Protein nanotech in next gen storage

    I'm not convinced of the organic model, maybe a hybrid. I'm still thinking those guys at fuji are almost on the right track, they're missing something with their Barium doodad but they'll probably iron it out soon enough. I predicted a lattice structure with Barium and iron in 1981 with something else to stabilise it and let you use the iron as part of the circuit - and hey presto crytaline lattice memory. A tiny bit different than fuji are using but they'll lighten up and see the solution - even if it's by a slow process of elimination.
    At the moment they're still in the very crude stages, smearing their stuff on tape, but the prize is the lattice. See if you can guess what it will be. I'm not sure we're ready for that much storage yet so I'll keep it to myself, but I can tell you it's a beautiful thing to behold and quite robust. The protein thing is just so much bigger in physical size that it's like chalk and cheese. The protein approach may make for good read only media but I think those days have gone.
    I believe we worked out you could carry every word ever spoken, by every man(and woman) who ever lived - in the palm of your hand, but hey haven't I got that with our Orwellian internet? Sometimes a little quiet contemplation is where the the real prize is.