Could your next hard drive be made with DNA?

Okay, so maybe not your next one, but in a few year's time? Maybe your storage will be writ across DNA itself. Researchers at Stanford have developed a method to store binary code on DNA. Dubbed the "recombinase addressable data (RAD) module," the method controls the synthesis and degradation of two proteins, integrase and excisionase. With RAD, a particular section of a microbe's DNA is tweaked to glow either red or green under ultraviolet light — and it can be switched back and forth at will.

What really sets this biological bit apart from others is that it can be reliably, and non-destructively, switched back and forth. It took the researchers three years to come up with the precise cocktail of proteins to achieve this feat. Since the switch is programmed into the microbes, it remains in its current state while the cell doubles, and can then be modified if needed.

"Programmable data storage within the DNA of living cells would seem an incredibly powerful tool for studying cancer, aging, organismal development and even the natural environment," said synthetic biologist Drew Endy, but we're a while from getting it to a more useful computational state. It's currently got around a 30 minute switch time. As Endy put it, "We're probably looking at a decade from when we started to get to a full byte."

Image of glowing protein courtesy of Roger Tsien, Univeristy of California, San Diego