Archiving data in DNA: scientists seem to believe it more and more, and the approval of a new $25 million funding in the United States for a new project confirms it. The new project will be born in the context of the MIST (Molecular Information Storage) program and has been set up by the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA). The project should foster the development of new scalable molecular storage techniques based on DNA.
The project will be led by the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) and foresees the use of DNA for the storage of digital data, storage that can eventually scale in the exabyte regime without renouncing the reduced physical space requirements of this technology. Currently the technology to store data in DNA already exists but further progress is needed to make this practical, even at a commercial level, and competitive with other data storage techniques, including magnetic tape and optical discs.
“The goal is to significantly reduce the size, weight and power required for storage data storage,” specifies Alexa Harter, director of the CIPHER (Cybersecurity, Information Protection and Hardware Evaluation Research) laboratory. “What would require acres in a data farm today could be stored in a device the size of a tabletop. We want to significantly improve all types of metrics for long-term data storage.”
Data storage technology in DNA provides such a compact type of storage device that one million terabyte hard drives could be stored in a volume the size of a sugar cube, as Nicholas Guise, a researcher at GTRI, explains. Moreover, data, unlike most other data storage digitization technologies, can be stored for hundreds of years if not thousands of years once it is inserted into DNA.
It is thought, however, that this technology can, at least initially, only be used for very important data that must be stored indefinitely but is rarely accessed. This is because, at least for the time being, the time needed to read and decode the data is still a little too long and therefore not suitable for all those data that must be accessed often and quickly.
It is possible to prevent fires by setting them in certain areas and in particular ways: this suggests a new study, which appeared in Nature Sustainability and was carried out by Stanford scholars who propose the use of so-called “controlled fires” to fight forest fires, also in light of the vast fires that have broken out in Australia.
Controlled fires, or “prescribed fires,” would prove useful especially in those areas where years of suppression of the same fires have led to the massive accumulation of wood and plant fuels in the forests, literally piled up and ready to start new fires. Controlled fires rarely escape predetermined boundaries and can also have ecological benefits on a par with natural fires.
These include the limitation of pests, diseased plants and generally an increase in species diversity. Fire has always been a natural part of the very ecology of forests and woodlands and is certainly not new as a tool used by farmers and foresters. The problem is that it can easily be lost or abused, with all the risks that follow.
Researchers have made precise calculations in their studies by defining the areas to be burned in order to obtain maximum benefits. For example, in California alone there would be a need for controlled fires or controlled logging of about 20 million acres, almost 20% of the area of the entire state.
“Controlled fires are effective and safe,” says Chris Field, director of the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment and Melvin. “California must remove obstacles to their use so that more devastating fires can be avoided.”
By carrying out analysis of rock samples taken from the bottom of the sea in the area of the centre of the Chicxulub crater, an area where 66 million years ago there was a huge meteorite impact, a team of researchers suggests that terrestrial plants, fungi and microbes were transported over great distances as a result of wave activity.
This was due to the giant tsunami that occurred as a result of the impact. The same study shows that the rebirth of terrestrial plants, dinoflagellates, cyanobacteria and all anaerobic bacteria was quite rapid as Bettina Schaefer, researcher at Curtin University and author of the study, explains.
“Our research shows that when the dust from the asteroid impact stabilized and sunlight returned to ideal levels, there was a rapid rebirth of terrestrial plants, dinoflagellates, cyanobacteria and all forms of anaerobic photosynthetic bacteria, including those from microbial carpets in the crater area,” says the researcher.
The same analysis also seems to suggest that it was also the phytoplankton communities in the impact area that evolved and continued to reproduce at a rapid rate.
“So many things were happening in such a short time, it was really as if a post-apocalyptic microbial chaos was happening in the Chicxulub crater,” says the researcher suggesting how this impact cost, which has led to global mass extinctions in the medium and long term, has, especially for smaller life forms for microorganisms, all in all represented an important transition or even a phase of accelerated growth.
It is defined as a discovery “that has implications for our understanding of the air we breathe” made by a group of chemists at the University of California at Irvine. The researchers have discovered the presence in the air of extremely small pieces, measuring about 30 nanometers in diameter, of fungi.
To be precise, as Michael Lawler, the main author of the study, explains, these are fragments that are most likely small pieces of fungal spores: “It was unexpected to identify them as fragments of fungi. The appearance of a large number of atmospheric nanoparticles is usually attributed to gas reactions in the atmosphere, which grow from molecules rather than larger particles.”
According to the researcher, who carried out the study together with James Smith, professor of chemistry, these small pieces of fungal spores are also easier to inhale in the lungs than the cells themselves, which can have a diameter of thousands of nanometres. This means that these particles can, at least theoretically, contribute more to the spread of allergic reactions, such as asthma, and in general to problems for more sensitive people.
They could also be responsible for more ice cloud creation, as Lawler explains: “Large intact biological cells are extremely rare in the atmosphere, but we have identified fungal nanoparticles in higher concentrations of order of magnitude, so if some or all of these are good ice nuclei, they could play a role in ice cloud formation.”