Considering the amount of data that humanity is creating in the digital age, scientists are scrambling to tackle it by improving how we store it. The data encoding in the strings of molecules – aka Polymers – transcends the issues of longevity and durability associated with a promising avenue, common silicon-based storage.
One way to do this involves coding information into DNA, such as music videos and Wikipedia, which represented in the genetic code. However, while promising, DNA digital data storage can be slow, expensive, and problematic in the end. Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin have shown how data can be stored using a urethane-like plastic polymer, perhaps a more stable, efficient and expensive medium than DNA.
In a study published in Cell Reports Physical Science, they demonstrated their method by coding Jane Austen’s novel Mansfield Park and then decoding a passage. The quote reads: “If a plan of happiness fails, human nature goes back to the other side; if the first calculation is wrong, we make the second better: we find comfort somewhere.” In a statement, the paper’s author, Samuel Dahlhauser, explained, “This particular paragraph was chosen because we felt it was emerging at this experimental time, and it is easily understood without the context of the book.”
First, the text converted to binary code, and then this binary code converted to hexadecimal code. The team created 16 separate molecules called oligourethanes to act as building blocks of polymer strings, aka monomers. Using Mol.E-Coder software developed by the team, this hexadecimal code converted into 18 polymer strings, comprising 176 monomers. A process called self-suffix used to decode the sequence. Fortunately, despite the name, it does not involve anyone setting himself on fire – instead, the process involves a monkey when the polymer passed.
The molecular weight of the string before and after the cleavage allows individual monomers – and ultimately – to identify the entire polymer sequence. To test whether their system would be usable without an intimate knowledge of their coding system, the team assigned a colleague who was not engaged in the project to decode the quote.
In their second attempt, (the first two due to human error), the passage was completely decoded. This molecular method of storing data could be a major improvement over previous methods. The limited amount used by the previous methods (for example, four bases of DNA) means that long strings of monomers should be used to represent a relatively small amount of information. Sixteen of the current methods are monomer, as well as the team using more effective ways to convert information to binary means this method can be more data-dense and efficient.