Protein Adds Muscle to Computer Memory

Dennis Faas's picture

In recent news that seems more science fiction than applied science, Japanese researchers have unveiled exciting new research that could change the way we create and use computers in years to come. Japanese professor Tetsuro Majima of Osaka University has demonstrated that proteins -- once the concern of chemists and biologists -- could now have impressive potential in the world of computer science. (Source:

Majima's research has indicated that proteins isolated from select bacteria species are able to store computer data, and that this type of storage could exceed the capabilities of current magnetic and optical storage components.

The fluorescent bacterial protein is etched onto glass, and read using precise combinations of light and chemicals. The data can be read, manipulated, and erased in a manner almost identical to current computer memory devices.

Typical computer memory circuits are manufactured using metal arranged on silicon. Since the manufacturing process requires extremely high temperatures it is usually impossible for thin materials like plastic or glass to be used as circuits since they cannot withstand the necessary high temperatures. (Source:

Protein-based memory devices will not require the use of high-temperature manufacturing, and will therefore be able to incorporate much thinner materials than traditional optical and magnetic-based memory systems.

The proteins can be "fixed" (etched with information) in about one minute, a speed that will improve as the technology is further developed. Along with fairly rapid information recording, memory devices based on protein will likely be unaffected by magnetic interference and will remain relatively stable at temperatures lower than the typical computer.

Protein-based memory promises users a faster, more efficient and more reliable form of data relay than current technologies, and one that will likely come in a much smaller package. The use of thinner materials will allow developers to create much smaller devices that will greatly expand the range of applications possible for protein technology.

With so many desirable qualities, it's no surprise that Majima's team is not the first to think of using proteins as a computer storage device. Researchers have been exploring the applications of various proteins for use in computer memory since 1995. (Source:

Last year, another Japanese research team at the Naro Institute of Science and Technology (NAIST) developed a protein-based computer memory component based on the protein ferritin, an iron-storing protein common to mammals and also to certain forms of bacteria. NAIST has not yet published definitive results although they expect to be at the product development stage within the next few years.

The applications of protein-based storage are intended primarily for a commercial market, but Majima also hopes to develop applications that will ameliorate the function of various medical devices and test procedures. Majima hopes to have a commercially viable product developed within the next five years.

A thinner, faster computer is definitely appealing to most consumers, and protein-based memory devices do seem to hold a lot of potential in that area. As the fields of biology and computer science converge, it will be interesting to discover what other biological molecules have potential computing applications. Perhaps we will succeed in creating an intelligent machine that is a fusion of living and artificial components. If current research efforts are any indication of the future of computer development, "Resistance is futile."

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