Scientists Just Encoded a GIF into the DNA of Bacteria Using CRISPR

Illustration by James Bareham  The Verge

While scientists have stored huge amounts of data (including movies) in DNA before, this represents the first time researchers have encoded and played back a video like this in living bacteria cells - E. coli, no less - but the team involved says this is way more than just a cinematic milestone. CRISPR, or clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats, is a bacterial defense system that cuts sections out of an incoming virus' DNA and pastes them into its own DNA. When researchers sequenced the bacterial DNA, they were able to retrieve and replay the moving images with 90 percent accuracy.

If that cell is a neuron, the potential insights into the human brain are as vast as the 215 petabytes of data researchers have managed to cram into a single gram of DNA. "If we could have them collect data and then store that data in their genomes, then we might have access to completely new types of information".

"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 said.

The ability to record such sequential events like a movie at the molecular level is key to the idea of reinventing the very concept of recording using molecular engineering, say the researchers. These dramas promise to follow the events that matter to cells-the molecular experiences that drive development, host-pathogen interactions, pathogenic processes, and much, much more.

Coming soon to a petri dish near you-dramas that are as compelling as any that would reveal the mysteries of the human heart, only more intimate.

"What we really want to make are cells that encode biological or environmental information about what's going on within them and around them", Shipman told MIT Technology Review on Wednesday.

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The researchers followed the same method in translating five frames from the motion photo sequence of the race horse into the DNA. "The scientists then fed the strands of DNA to E. coli bacterium" writes Sample.

Bacteria continue to add new elements upstream of previous elements in a growing array located in the bacterial genomes' CRISPR location. Here we use the CRISPR–Cas system to encode the pixel values of black and white images and a short movie into the genomes of a population of living bacteria.

Anti-Crispr proteins stop Crispr-Cas9 from working, by mimicking DNA, and effectively tricking Crispr-Cas9 into binding with it, and then never letting go. Whether they are in texts, tweets, or articles, GIFs are now a staple of how we communicate in the modern world. "You would not use it to store movies, but I would use synthetic DNA to store movies", said Ceze. The Crispr-Cas9 is a molecular tool that combines RNA molecules and special proteins to precisely cut and edit DNA.

Recent studies, though, have focused on synthetic DNA, which allows for similar storage in tiny spaces capabilities, but without the concern of data longevity outside an organism and in the light.

At the moment, all that is "the other side of science fiction", said Ewan Birney, director of the European Bioinformatics Institute and a member of the group that put Shakespeare's sonnets in DNA.

"We want to turn cells into historians", said neuroscientist Seth Shipman, a post-doctoral fellow at Harvard Medical School, according to a statement from the National Institutes of Health. The report provides current and forecasted market for each of the genetic conditions of Genetic Testing.

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