DNA Bacteria Will Be Your New Hard Drives

Researchers at Harvard Medical School have used the CRISPR gene-editing tool to encode five frames of a vintage motion picture into the DNA Bacteria of E. coli bacteria. By reducing each frame into a series of single-color pixels and matching each color to a DNA code, the scientists were able to string together DNA strands that represented the video frames.

Non-biological information has been encoded into DNA before, going back as far as 2003. However, this is the first time living organisms have been used as the message’s vessel. Living organisms are in a constant state of movement and flux, making them less stable and less predictable than the synthetic DNA material used in previous encoding experiments. Even though this technology is in its infancy, the research team was able to retrieve approximately 90% of the original message from the E. coli cells, effectively marking a new milestone in the advancement of our information storage methods.

According to the research from Methods and applications, edited by Y.E. Khudyakov and W.A. Fields. 2003, for the US National Library of Medicine:

Despite the broadness of the biochemical and medical applicability of artificial DNA presented in this book, some important aspects from a more chemical point of view are missing. These include new synthetic DNA constructs, such as locked DNA (LNA), metal-mediated base pairing (M-DNA), artificial DNA bases with or without hydrogen-bonding capabilities, new DNA base pairs for the extension of the genetic code, chromophore-interactions in DNA, and DNA as a supramolecular medium for nanotechnology, and others.

In summary, the book provides a good and comprehensive review of the concepts and use of artificial and synthetic DNA for designing genes and proteins and for the development of pharmaceutically relevant products, such as vaccines, recombinant antibodies, and screening methodologies. It is written clearly from a medical–biochemical point of view for other biochemists and molecular biologists working in the broad field of gene assembly and development.

Smartphones can already sequence DNA; is there something DNA can’t do? The Radiolab Podcast covers some updates on the CRISPR tool; this and more podcasts to check out in medicine and science.

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