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Virtualization, Deduplication, And … Rat Brains?

Researchers successfully emulate short-term memory using rat brain cells. Could this advance have long-term implications on data storage?

From Microsoft's data-deletion strategy to DNA-infused microchips, there's no end to the innovative new technologies that promise to revolutionize the way we store and use data. Here's one of the latest: rat brains.

Yep, you read that right. According to research published in a recent edition of Nature Neuroscience, it is possible to store information on cells removed from the hippocampus of a rat brain and recover it after several seconds, reliably enough to emulate the short-term memory of a living rat.

The technique is a unique advance in the study of memory and learning in biological organisms, according to the paper's authors. This is partly because the data-storage and recovery were accomplished in the lab, independently of the cells' original owner. Most rat-brain memory experiments, including others published in the same issue of Nature Neuroscience, involve actual living rats.

[ Read about Microsoft's new deletion-based data compression strategy. See Microsoft Team Shrinks Big Data By Deleting It. ]

The in-vitro technique, developed by a pair of researchers from Cleveland's Case Western Reserve University, was a clear demonstration of the mechanism of declarative memory-- the process of catching and storing specific facts such as names, numbers, or events. It does not involve the type of memory used for skills or knowledge learned in bits and pieces over a long time--how to play the piano, for example, or ride a bike.

Of course, while declarative memory is the type that's most applicable to computer functions, researchers are unlikely to pursue rat brains as a data storage tool for IT environments.

The study was designed to trace the pathway of information in and out of a neuron and demonstrate the mechanism for keeping it there as a way to better understand the process, structures, and biochemistry of memory in living brains--primarily those of humans, according to authors at ScienceBlog.

Clearly, rat brain cells are much less relevant to IT than memory built of silicon nanowires or carbon nanotubes. But the study does expand our understanding of how biological systems collect and retain data.

That discipline, called computational biology, includes the development of DNA-infused microchips as well as interfaces that allow users to control computers simply by thinking.

The same discipline comprises psychological studies such as using computers to emulate schizophrenia, and development of brain-like structures that could help computers recognize shapes such as individual faces or even inanimate objects.

None of these advances are likely to cut the cost or increase the efficiency of big data storage anytime soon. They might offer hope, however, for IT managers facing a storage crisis in the data center and an overpopulation of vermin in the storage room.

Extending core virtualization concepts to storage, networking, I/O, and application delivery is changing the face of the modern data center. In the Pervasive Virtualization report, we discuss all these areas in the context of four main precepts of virtualization. (Free registration required.)

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