A research team from ETH Zurich (Switzerland) has announced success in the 3D printing of data into everyday objects. This could lead to capabilities in hiding instructions for the replication of 3D-printed objects and even the marking of medications.
After collaborating with an Israeli scientist, the ETH Zurich team has been able to develop a means for storing vast amounts of data in any 3D-printed object, via DNA molecules.
Robert Grass, Professor at the Department of Chemistry and Applied Biosciences (ETH Zurich) explained:
With this method, we can integrate 3D printing instructions into an object, so that after decades or even centuries, it will be possible to obtain those instructions directly from the object itself.”
In developing the DNA-containing objects, Grass had previously designed a method for ‘marking’ products with a DNA fingerprint or ‘barcode’ incorporated into glass nanobeads. Grass reports that these beads can be used for a myriad of applications, including tracers for geological tests and markers for high-quality foodstuffs, distinguishing them from counterfeits.
The ‘barcode’ itself is comprised of a short 100-bit code and has been commercialized by Haelixa, an ETH spin-off. In theory, it could be possible to store up to 215 000 terabytes of data in a single gram of this DNA, thanks to the collaborate efforts of Grass and Yaniv Erlich (Erlich Lab LLC; Raanana, Israel). Reported in Nature Biotechnology, the combined technologies successfully comprise the ‘DNA of Things’.
In proving the concept, the team 3D-printed a plastic rabbit with the instructions for printing subsequent, identical rabbits packaged into glass nanobeads integrated into the plastic.
Just like real rabbits, our rabbit also carries its own blueprint,” mentioned Grass.
The team then used these instructions to print identical rabbits five times, creating the ‘great, great, great grandchild’ of the original rabbit.
All other known forms of storage have a fixed geometry: a hard drive has to look like a hard drive, a CD like a CD. You can’t change the form without losing information,” Erlich explained. “DNA is currently the only data storage medium that can also exist as a liquid, which allows us to insert it into objects of any shape.”
The nanobeads and 3D printing technique has potential for many applications and in many areas of industry, but the team claimed that there may be an application in marking medicines. In the future, it may even be possible for medical supervisory authorities to read test results from production quality control directly from the product, as the information could be stored within the medicine itself.
As the cost of translating the 3D printing file stored within these objects is reduced, there may be no limit to the potential applications of this technique within medicine and industry.
Sources: Koch J, Gantenbein S, Masania K, Stark WJ, Erlich Y, Grass RN. A DNA-of-things storage architecture to create materials with embedded memory. Nature Biotechnology. doi: 10.1038/s41587-019-0356-z (2019) (Epub ahead of print); https://ethz.ch/en/news-and-events/eth-news/news/2019/12/dna-of-things-storing-data-in-everyday-objects.html