Encoding & Decoding images, with small molecules

Scientists from Brown University found a way to encode and decode images, not with microchips but with small molecules, and it worked with a 98-percent accuracy.

Encoding & Decoding images,  with small molecules

The study published on Wednesday in the open-access journal PLOS ONE demonstrated that the small-molecule information storage can successfully encode more than 100,000 bits of digital images into synthetic metabolomes.

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Previously, biomolecules like DNA have been used to help store information. In the new study, the researchers resorted to another molecules: metabolites, which are smaller, more diverse and have the potential to store information at greater density than the genome.

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Metabolite is any chemicals involved in metabolism, either as a product of metabolism or as necessary for metabolism.

They used liquid-handling robots to write digital information by dotting mixtures of metabolites into a grid on a surface. An instrument called a mass spectrometer can read the locations and identities of the metabolites and report out binary data.

They could encode the information from a picture and then decode it to redraw the image with 98 to 99.5 percent accuracy. In the study, the researchers recovered the image of an anchor and a banner with the inscription of “Hope.”

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“A molecular hard drive or a chemical computer might still seem like science fiction, but biology shows us it is possible,” said Jacob Rosenstein with Brown University, who led the study.

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