Solving Medical Problems May Help To Solve The Storage Crisis

By Hubert Yoshida posted 11-04-2019 01:11

There is a multi-zettabyte crisis facing the world’s need to store data. I blogged about this last month when I saw the IDC study that predicted that the global data sphere would be 175 zettabytes by 2025. The reason this is a crisis is that the projected shipments of storage  device capacity between now through 2025 will only be about 21.9 zettabytes! Where will we store all that data beyond 21.9 zettabytes?  The answer is we won’t, unless we develop a new kind of storage system that is radically different than what we have today. The capacity must be in zettabytes, last thousands of years, consume almost no power, and be orders of magnitude cheaper than it is today.  

While nothing appears to be on the horizon for 2025, there appears to be some progress. 

One of our customers that was recognized for an Enterprise Business Transformation award at our NEXT 2019 event last month was Vironova. Vironova is a Swedish biotechnology company who brings new medications to market quickly and safely through the use of electron microscopy. Vironova provides comprehensive hardware, software, and services for the analysis of nanoparticles to shorten the pharmaceutical development cycle. Vironova worked with Hitachi to revolutionizes access to transmission electron microscopy–based image analysis in biopharmaceutical development, using Hitachi’s Transmission Electron Microscope technology. Vironova has a long history of working with the pharmaceutical market and helping support life sciences companies. They bring in-house understanding of how to manage the data, how to validate the results and then store them in a reliable way. I looked this project up in the Hitachi Review and found this report: Collaborating to Support Future Healthcare Solutions: Fusion of Electron Microscopy and Image Analysis in Biological Drug Manufacturing Processes which was written by Vironova and Hitachi.

In this report they described the use of a Transmission Electron Microscope for obtaining high resolution images of biological and non-biological specimens. It was used in biomedical research to investigate the detailed structure of tissues, cells, organelles and macromolecular complexes. The high resolution of electron microscope images results from the use of electrons (which have very short wavelengths) rather than light (which has a longer wavelength) as the source of illuminating radiation. This allows us to see structures such as DNA in genes and essentially “read” the DNA.

Then I thought back to a project that I saw at the Hitachi Central Research Lab on Regenerative Medicine, which I blogged about this summer. In this project Hitachi researchers were reprogramming body cells to mass produce embryonic stem cell for use in regenerative medicine. Hitachi is also actively engaged in development of gene therapy through the editing of DNA. 

With this technology to reprogram or rewrite cells or genes and the ability to read their images, manage, validate, and reliably store the data with electron microscopes, we have the makings of a really dense storage device that could store data in zettabyte capacities in biological structures like DNA.

This idea is not new. The physicist, Norbert Wiener, published a paper on the concept of DNA storage in 1964 and a DNA storage device was created at the University of Arizona in 2007. Scientists believe that a zettabyte of binary data can be stored in a gram of DNA. DNA storage could last 1000 years. DNA data storage is a complicated process and the reality is that scientists are still working on methods that would make it easier, more stable, convenient, and less costly to encode and retrieve. Speed and cost of access are currently the major inhibitors. According to an article by the Investment service, Motley Fool, Microsoft is working on DNA Storage. However, even with the best technology today, it would take several months and hundreds of thousands of dollars to synthesize an equivalent amount of DNA held in a single cell of E. coli -- something the bacterium does for free in about 20 minutes. 

The future storage structures that will be required to solve the accelerating zettabyte demands of data may well come from the developments of nanobiology.  The fields of engineering and biology are becoming more closely entwined as we develop new cures for human ailments. The same combination of disciplines may solve our storage ailments as well.