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DNA Double Feature: Scientists Replay Movie Stored in Molecules

15 July 2017

In order to insert this information into the genomes of bacteria, the researchers transferred the image and the movie onto nucleotides (building blocks of DNA), producing a code that related to the individual pixels of each image. Then they used a powerful new gene-editing technique, Crispr, to slip this sequence into the genome of a common gut bacteria, E. coli.

They delivered the GIF into the living bacteria in the form of five frames: images of a galloping horse and rider, taken by English photographer Eadweard Muybridge, who produced the first stop-motion photographs in the 1870s. More precisely, scientists are able to select sequences of DNA they want to work with, cut them from DNA strip, alter them in whatever ways they like, and then put them back.

For the first time, a video has been encoded in the DNA of a living cell.

Their approach not only opens entirely new possibilities for data storage, the study team believes it could also be engineered into an effective memory device able to create a chronological record of cells' molecular experiences during development or under exposure to stresses or pathogens. "What this shows us is that we can get the information in, we can get the information out, and we can understand how the timing works too", Shipman tells Sample.

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The CRISPR system in bacteria helps them develop immunity against the constant onslaught of viruses in their environments. We often think of its units, the As, Cs, Ts, and Gs, as letters of the words in an instruction manual.

"Right now, we can measure one neuron at a time with electrodes, but 86 billion electrodes would not fit in your brain", Church said.

What are the challenges and barriers that have hindered widespread adoption of Genetic Testing? 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.

Cells themselves could, in this scheme, be induced to record events at molecular level - such as gene expression changes over time - in their own genomes.

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"The ability to turn Cas9 gene editing off is just as important as the ability to turn it on", said Corn, scientific director for biomedicine of the IGI and a UC Berkeley assistant adjunct professor of molecular and cell biology. Over the course of five days, they sequentially treated bacteria with a frame of translated DNA. "One day", noted Dr. Shipman, "we may be able to follow all the developmental decisions that a differentiating neuron is taking from an early stem cell to a highly specialized type of cell in the brain, leading to a better understanding of how basic biological and developmental processes are choreographed". Together, the string of nucleotides spelled out the information needed to encode every pixel of the horse GIF.

DNA is emerging as an excellent medium for storing data.

Shipman says you could deposit these bacterial hard drives in the body or anywhere in the world, record something you might be interested in, collect the bacteria, and sequence the DNA to see what information has been picked up along the way.

The details on making molecular movies appear in the latest issue of the journal Nature. In a study published today (July 12) in Science Advances, researchers have now used one of those anti-CRISPR agents to reduce off-target effects in Cas9-mediated genome editing in human cells. But the new method of using live bacteria opens the door to exciting possibilities.

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DNA Double Feature: Scientists Replay Movie Stored in Molecules