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updated 2/22/2008 1:08:04 PM ET 2008-02-22T18:08:04

Proteins play a big role in the functioning of your brain, but some recent research indicates that, in a few years, proteins could also play a big role in the functioning of your computer.

Tetsuro Majima at Osaka University in Japan has now shown that proteins can be used to store computer data — and exceed the capacities of today's magnetic and optical media, which are pushing their performance boundaries. The resulting data should be stable enough for a commercial product, which he hopes to see emerge in the next five years, he told LiveScience.

Protein-based memory devices should be immune to magnetic interference, which can wreck data on a hard drive.

To demonstrate the storage approach, the researchers used a special fluorescent protein to etch patterns on a glass slide. Using combinations of light and chemicals, they were able to read the patterns as computer data and erase them at will, mimicking the functions of a computer's memory.

The protein patterns can be fixed in about one minute, Majima said, and then can be read at standard computer speeds. The protein (derived from bacteria) is stable, but for long-term storage is best kept below 4 degrees Celsius (40 degrees Fahrenheit.)

The results are detailed in the latest edition of Langmuir, a scientific journal of the American Chemical Society covering films, gels, bio-electric-chemistry and related phenomena.

In addition to conventional memory storage devices, Majima and his colleagues hinted that the proteins could also be used for improved biosensors and automated medical tests.

© 2012 LiveScience.com. All rights reserved.

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