A Harvard scientist has developed a modified protein that he says could allow DVDs to store up to 50 Terabytes of data. The protein, normally found in the membrane of salt marsh bacteria, is converted to intermediate molecules when it enters into contact with sunlight. The intermediate state only lasts hours or days before returning to a ground state, but Harvard Medical School Professor V. Renugopalakrishnan and his colleagues altered the host bacteria’s DNA to enable the intermediate states to last for “more than several years.”

A Harvard scientist has developed a modified protein that he says could allow DVDs to store up to 50 Terabytes of data. The protein, normally found in the membrane of salt marsh bacteria, is converted to intermediate molecules when it enters into contact with sunlight. The intermediate state only lasts hours or days before returning to a ground state, but Harvard Medical School Professor V. Renugopalakrishnan and his colleagues altered the host bacteria’s DNA to enable the intermediate states to last for “more than several years.”

Coating DVDs with the modified protein and assigning its respective intermediate and ground states to ones zeros could allow for significantly higher storage densities than current optical media. Indeed, the proteins are “only a few nanometers across,” whereas pits in Blu-ray media can only be as small as 150 nanometers, according to a Memorex whitepaper (PDF). Renugopalakrishnan says protein-based DVDs could therefore store at least 20 times more data than Blu-ray media (up to 1 TB), adding that they could eventually go up to 50 TB. Thanks to Reg Hardware for the tip.