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Bacterial DNA stores movie in scientific breakthrough

15 Julio 2017, 12:55 | Verda Sainz

SHIN ET AL. SCIENCE ADVANCES

SHIN ET AL. SCIENCE ADVANCES

In a report published today in Nature, Harvard researchers demonstrate that it is possible to archive images and movies in the DNA of living E. coli cells.

The aim is to be able to record data in the genomes of living cells that can be accessed later, providing insights that could help fight disease and deepen our understanding of biology.

To "read" the information back, the researchers sequenced the bacterial DNA and used custom computer code to unscramble the genetic information, which spits out the images. For example, several methods of gene therapy may leave active Cas9 in patient cells, which clinicians would want to turn off. "It's absolutely critical to have an on-switch for gene-editing, but it's just as important to have an off switch", he adds.

While realizing this new concept of molecular recording, Shipman together with second-author Jeff Nivala, a research fellow in genetics at HMS, identified a valuable set of requirements in their analysis that make spacer sequences likely to be more easily acquired and defined sequence features that prevent their acquisition into growing CRISPR arrays-the do's and don'ts of spacer design.

Ultimately, researchers want to place these engineered cells inside living organism where they can automatically record events (or changes) and then remove the smart cells and decode the DNA-stored information for full, sequential play back.

The scientists then similarly translated five frames from the racing horse in motion photo sequence into the DNA. Imagine what progress neuroscience could see, for instance, if scientists could record all the molecular events that a neuron undergoes during the course of its lifetime.

Shipman and his team's choice of a GIF as DNA storage test media is not surprising when you look at their long-term goal of biological recording. Even though the bugs had grown and divided over the week, they had retained the synthetic strands of DNA which Shipman used to reconstruct the images with 90% accuracy. It would be, said Church, analogous to the black boxes carried by airplanes whose data is used in the event of a crash.

Due to its dynamic, if brief, nature, encoding the historic horse GIF presented unique challenges something like sticking an old static image into living bacteria. Then, they introduced their custom sequences into a population of E. coli bacteria, creating temporary pores in the cells' membranes with electric pulses.

The feat is the latest breakthrough in the effort to computerize biomolecular resources.

CRISPR-blocking proteins work by targeting a spot on the CRISPR-Cas9 molecule and binding with it, rendering the molecule unable to cut DNA, the team said.

In a first, researchers converted a movie into a DNA sequence and inserted it into bacteria. This series of photographs, which show a galloping horse, is sometimes cited as being the first silent film. George Church and Jeffrey Macklis to transfer the encoded DNA into the bacteria. For this they turned to the cutting-edge, NIH-funded gene editing technology CRISPR. And this legendary, Nobel Prize-worthy tool basically acts like a computer's copy/paste function - allowing scientists to manipulate DNA in all sorts of ways. The team decided to hack this system for their own purposes, says study co-author Seth Shipman, a neuroscience researcher at Harvard University. They hope to someday use the technology to record cell behavior.

It probably the smallest movies ever made.

A team of scientists achieved a new breakthrough in the process of storing and then replaying data on DNA.



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