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Researchers store digital images in metabolite molecules

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In a step toward molecular storage systems that could hold vast amounts of data in tiny spaces, Brown University researchers have shown it’s possible to store image files in solutions of common biological small molecules. Credit: Jacob Rosenstein et. al.

DNA molecules are well known as carriers of huge amounts of biological information, and there is growing interest in using DNA in engineered data storage devices that can hold vastly more data than our current hard drives. But new research shows that DNA isn’t the only game in town when it comes to molecular data storage.

A study led by Brown University researchers shows that it’s possible to store and retrieve data stored in artificial metabolomes—arrays of liquid mixtures containing sugars, amino acids and other types of . For a paper published in the journal PLOS ONE, the researchers showed that they could encode kilobyte-scale image files into metabolite solutions and read the back out again.

“This is a proof-of-concept that we hope makes people think about using wider ranges of molecules to store information,” said Jacob Rosenstein, a professor in Brown’s School of Engineering and senior author of the study. “In some situations, small molecules like the ones we used here can have even greater information density than DNA.”

Another potential advantage, Rosenstein says, stems from the fact that many metabolites can react with each other to form new compounds. That creates the potential for molecular systems that not only store data, but also manipulate it—performing computations within metabolite mixtures.

The idea behind molecular computing grows out of an increasing need for more data storage capacity. By 2040, the world will have produced as much as 3 septillion (that’s 3 followed by 24 zeros) bits of data by some estimates. Storing, searching and processing all of that data is a daunting challenge, and there simply may not be enough chip-grade silicon on Earth to do this with traditional semiconductor chips. Funded by a contract with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Administration (DARPA), a group of engineers and chemists at Brown has been working on a variety of techniques for using small molecules to create new information systems.

For this new study, the group wanted to see if artificial metabolomes could be a data-storage option. In biology, a metabolome is the full array of molecules an organism uses to regulate its metabolism.

“It’s not hard to recognize that cells and organisms use small molecules to transmit information, but it can be harder to generalize and quantify,” said Eamonn Kennedy, a postdoctoral associate at Brown and first author of the study. “We wanted to demonstrate how a metabolome can encode precise digital information.”

The researchers assembled their own artificial metabolomes—small liquid mixtures with different combinations of molecules. The presence or absence of a particular metabolite in a mixture encodes one bit of digital data, a zero or a one. The number of molecule types in the artificial metabolome determines the number of bits each mixture can hold. For this study, the researchers created libraries of six and 12 metabolites, meaning each mixture could encode either six or 12 bits. Thousands of mixtures are then arrayed on small metal plates in the form of nanoliter-sized droplets. The contents and arrangement of the droplets, precisely placed by a liquid-handling robot, encodes the desired data.

The plates are then dried, leaving tiny spots of molecules, each holding digital information. The data can then be read out using a mass spectrometer, which can identify the metabolites present at each spot on the plate and decode the data.

The researchers used the technique to successfully encode and retrieve a variety of image files of sizes up to 2 kilobytes. That’s not big compared to the capacity of modern storage systems, but it’s a solid proof-of-concept, the researchers say. And there’s plenty of potential for scaling up. The number of bits in a mixture increases with the number of metabolites in an artificial metabolome, and there are thousands of known metabolites available for use.

There are some limitations, the researchers point out. For example, many metabolites chemically interact with each other when placed in the same solution, and that could result in errors or loss of data. But that’s a bug that could ultimately become a feature. It may be possible to harness those reactions to manipulate data—performing in-solution computations.

“Using for computation is a tremendous opportunity, and we are only starting to figure out how to take advantage of it,” said Brenda Rubenstein, a Brown assistant professor of chemistry and co-author of the study.

“Research like this challenges what people see as being possible in molecular data systems,” Rosenstein said. “DNA is not the only molecule that can be used to store and process information. It’s exciting to recognize that there are other possibilities out there with great potential.”

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TikTok owner ByteDance plans to launch music streaming

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(Reuters) – TikTok owner Beijing ByteDance Technology Co Ltd is in talks with big music labels – Universal Music, Sony Music and Warner Music – for global licensing deals to include their songs on its new music subscription service, the Financial Times reported on Sunday.

ByteDance is looking to launch its music streaming as soon as next month, initially in emerging markets such as India, Indonesia and Brazil, before a future opening in the United States, the FT reported, citing people familiar with the matter.

In addition to on-demand music, ByteDance’s app will include a library of short video clips for listeners to search through and synch to songs as they listen, the report added.

ByteDance has not given a name to its music app yet and pricing remains unclear, although it is expected to cost less than the $10 a month charged by Spotify Technology SA, Apple Inc and others in the United States, according to the report.

The company was not immediately available for comment on Sunday.

(Reporting by Anurag Maan in Bengaluru; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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Apple announces press event on Dec. 2

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Apple will host an event on Dec. 2

Apple just announced a press event that it will hold at 4 p.m. ET on Dec. 2 in New York City. The event will be focused on “honoring our favorite apps and games of 2019.” A tagline on the invite says “Loved by millions. Created by the best.”

Apple typically issues a press release detailing its favorite apps and games of the year annually, but this time there may be some sort of awards ceremony instead of just a release. New products are not expected at the event.

Reports had suggested Apple was planning to hold some sort of press conference in October, although the company ultimately announced and released products instead of holding a splashy event. Recent announcements included the new 16-inch MacBook Pro and new AirPods Pro with noise cancellation.

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Samsung’s Star Wars-themed Galaxy Note 10 Plus

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With the impending December 20th release of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker looming like a nearby Death Star, Samsung has announced a Star Wars-themed Galaxy Note 10 Plus that’s giving off some major Kylo Ren energy. It will be on sale in the US on December 13th for $1,299.99.

The phone looks really slick. I love the red lightsaber-style S Pen. It’s a black Note 10 Plus with a First Order emblem on the back and red trim on the buttons and around the camera. In the Kylo Ren-themed box, you’ll also get black Galaxy Buds with a red inner casing, a Ren-themed leather phone case, and a Ren-themed “metal badge.”


Samsung says the phone will come with exclusive Star Wars-themed wallpapers, shutdown animations, icons, and sounds.

With a price tag of $1,299.99, it’s a little more expensive than a base Galaxy Note 10 Plus — which you can buy on Samsung’s website at a sale price of $839.99 — but the extra Star Wars-themed goodies might make the extra cost worth it.

Samsung says bundle will be available in Australia, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Korea, Norway, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, UAE, the UK, and the US. In select markets, it will be available starting on December 10th, which is a bit sooner than the US release date.

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