Storing Data In the Human Body

Following up on my earlier post about storing messages in DNA it might be interesting to explore ways to encode large volumes of data directly into parts of the human body. Messing with DNA is risky — it may be safer to store data in other parts of the human body (with the one potential disadvantage that such data would not be passed down via heredity). Here are some suggestions for parts of the human body that might be good media for data-storage:

– Fingernails. It may be possible to encode data on fingernails. This could be accomplished via micro-etching onto the surface or better yet, via holographic etching within the matrix of the fingernail itself. An advantage of using fingernails to store data is that you could easily read the data by inserting a finger into a scanning device. Also, different fingernails could be used for different data partitiions. One disadvantage is that fingernails grow and eventually data would be lost if not refreshed — however this might actually be a feature in that the storage is self-expiring which could be useful when you want data to be permanently removed from storage.

– The lens of the eye. The lens of the human eye may provide a good medium for encoding data. Data would be written into it using laser holographic etching. An advantage of this approach is that biometric authentication of user-access to data could be integrated with the data itself. For example, to access the data that is encoded onto the lens of your eye, you would look into a reader that would first do an iris scan to authenticate your identity and permission to read the data, and would then read/write the data as you request. A disadvantage of using the lens to store data is that it might not be reusable — it may be difficult to erase or overwrite data on the lens, although the jury is still out on this question. Another important consideration would be to ensure that the data encoding did not interfere with vision, although it is not expected that this would be a problem as it is easy to encode data microscopically such that it would not affect visual refraction.

– Teeth. Data could potentiallyl be encoded into teeth, although it would be difficult to write and read it off later. Furthermore, food and fluids in the mouth could potentially interfere with read/write operations. This is probably a non-optimal storage solution!

– Hair. Strands of human hair would be good media for storing data. Data could be etched into the hair strand using a laser. The advantage of this is that the body has lots of hair and it is constantly being regenerated, so there would be an infinite supply of storage and rather than worrying about how to erase or overwrite, you could simply use a different strand of hair to encode new data. The disadvantage is that hairs are easily lost, which could make data stored on hairs a bit fragile. Another problem is that it might be difficult to locate the data once stored — since presumably a given person has more than just a single hair on their body, which would require some method of locating the particular hair containing the particular data of interest. One solution might be to redundantly encode the same data on all the hair in a given region, say the forearm of a person, such that any hair from that region would contain a complete copy of the data.

– Skin tissue. It might be possible to encode data temporarily into regions of skin tissue. This could be accomplished using micro-tattooing technology, or perhaps by “dying” the tissue with a memory-bearing dye, perhaps one that is infused with micro-crystalline storage particles of some sort. This would be a very fragile and temporary way to store data however as skin cells are constantly regenerating, sloughing off, and getting affected by environmental conditions.

– Blood Nano-Infusion. It might be possible to integrate nanotechnologies into the human body in a manner that could provide integrated digital storage without harming the body itself. For example, suppose there were a way to take a pill that containined nanocrystals encoded with particular data that you wanted to “store.” This pill would be digested and the nanocrystals might be then distributed throughout the bloodstream for some period of time until they were naturally excreted by the body.

– Artificial Memory Implants. Of course, rather than modifying the biological substances of the body it might be simpler to just implant a memory-bearing device under the skin. This is similar to current work on implantable RFID chips. The advantage is that such devices may provide a large volume of digital storage in the future, and could potentially be written to and read from remotely using RFID technology. A disadvantage however is that (unless such devices were in pill-form) they require surgical implantation and removal.

– DNA. As has been previously proposed (see link above), DNA provides an excellent medium for data-storage; particularly the junk DNA regions which presumably are less involved in critical functions of the DNA (although recent evidence supports the hypothesis that so-called “junk DNA” may be more involved in cell specialization than was previously thought). Storing data in DNA has the advantage that data is distributed throughout the entire body. Furthermore, if stored in the sex-cells, stored data can be passed down to offspring. A disadvantage of using DNA for data-storage is the possible unanticipated effects on cell development and health.

– Benign viruses as storage media. An interesting possibility might be to create a benign virus that could be used to carry stored data. This virus would have to be non-transmittable and have no adverse effects on health, functionality and well-being of the host organism. Data could be encoded onto specimens of this virus and then injected, ingested or inhaled to “store” it in the human body. Later, the data could be retrieved via a small sample of blood containing the virus. Ideally, this virus could be tagged genetically such that differently tagged viruses could be identified and used to store different data. Data would never have to be erased — instead a new tagged virus would be created containing the new data and would simply supersede the previous virus. One potential issue is immune-response to the virus however, which could cause the body to attack it and result in lost data. Another potential concern would be viral mutation, and the possible effects on data and on health that could result.

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