This is a CyberEye broadcast updating you on the latest and greatest developments in
the world of science and technology. DNA is the blueprint for life, and now it
can serve as a computer to monitor life’s processes. Bioengineers transformed DNA into
a one-bit memory system that can record, store and erase data within living cells. A future
DNA memory device could be used to track cell division and differentiation in cancer patients,
perhaps, or to monitor what happens as cells get sick or age.
There are plenty of body-monitoring computer systems, from chips that can swim through
the bloodstream to nanowires that can tap the heart or other muscle. But so far, these
systems are limited to a few processes. This system could work like rewritable memory in
your computer, recording and erasing information again and again.
The system flips DNA sequences back and forth between two states, basically the genetic
equivalent of a binary switch. One DNA orientation equates to “one”, and the other equates
to “zero.” The process uses an enzyme taken from bacteriophages to cut and recombine
the DNA. The enzyme moves to a particular ribbon of DNA and flips it around so its base
pairs basically read backward, and a second signal flips it back.
Stanford researchers Jerome Bonnet and Drew Endy call it a “recombinase addressable
data” module, or RAD. The team worked for three years to find the right balance of proteins
that would reliably flip the DNA sequences back and forth without degrading.
To test whether it worked, the team modified E. coli bacteria to fluoresce in different
colors depending on the state of the DNA bit. In lab tests so far, it’s been able to monitor
the activity of E. coli as they double more than 100 times. The team’s goal is to produce
a byte, combining 8 of these RAD bits to build a larger memory system.
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