There are some amazing things happening at the genetic level nowadays – beyond the usual, controversial, modifications to increase crop yield, or make plants glow. Researchers have now devised a method to rewrite the DNA of living bacteria, encoding information into them like mini microscopic hard drives.
This feat was accomplished through the use of CRISPR, a defense mechanism present in many kinds of bacteria, which records the genes of invading viruses in order torecognize them when they attack again.This talent has been handily repurposed into what is being called a “genome editing tool:”
“‘We write the information directly into the genome,’ [co-author Jeff Nivala, part of the team from Harvard, said. ‘While the overall amount of DNA data we have currently stored within a genome is relatively small compared to the completely synthetic DNA data storage systems, we think genome-based information storage has many potential advantages.” These advantages, he says, could include higher fidelity and the capability to directly interface with biology. For example, a bacterium could be taught to recognize, provide information, and even kill other microorganisms in its midst, or provide a record of genetic expression.
‘Depending on how you calculate it, we stored between about 30 to 100 bytes of information,’ said Nivala. ‘Which is quite high compared to the previous record set within a living cell, which was ~11 bits.’”
While these results had been achieved with the above-mentioned earlier experiment, the DNA and encoding were manufactured, rather than modified from their natural state. In this new experiment, importantly, this edited information appears to be inheritable to the next generation. This could bode very well, not only as an information storage solution, but also for the understanding of genetic disorders in creatures great and small!