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Storing data in the genomes of bacteria

Thanks to a revolutionary approach that goes beyond DNA, it is possible to store data in the genomes of living bacteria.

Bacteria are ubiquitous organisms that can be found practically everywhere, including in our body. Today, new research has found that these microscopic life forms can be programmed to store data in their genome, then function as databases of their own. This was demonstrated by a team of scientists from Columbia University in New York City in a study published in Nature Chemical Biology.

Specifically, the American researchers performed interesting experiments on bacteria belonging to the Escherichia coli species. By subjecting the bacteria to small electrical scales, they modified their genomic models, managing with this technique to activate or deactivate two different genomic models, one with “electricity on” and one with “electricity off”.

In essence, these are models that could be equated to the 1s or 0s that are used in the binary system of computers. This innovative technology, therefore, could be used to store and archive digital data in an alternative way, going beyond DNA.

“To read the sequence of ones and zeros of the information we sequenced the bacteria. With this approach, we electrically encoded up to 72 bits of data, used to write the ‘Hello World’ message, “said Harris Wang of Columbia University. For this purpose, the scientists said they used an adapted CRISPR technology.

What is CRISPR?

“CRISPR” means “clusters of regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats.”
CRISPR technology is a straightforward yet useful asset for altering genomes.

It permits analysts to effortlessly change DNA groupings and change gene functions. Its numerous potential applications incorporate correcting genetic imperfections, treating and anticipating the spread of illnesses and improving yields.

DNA inside living bacterial cells has been altered with CRISPR technology to encode and store data. This could be a stage towards improving a new medium for long-term information store up.

The next step

To store information in DNA, scientists normally convert the string of digital ones and zeros of a data file into mixes of the atom’s four bases: adenine, guanine, cytosine, and thymine. At that point, they utilize a DNA synthesizer to compose that code into the genome. In any case, the accuracy of DNA combination diminishes with expanding code length, so analysts regularly break their file into lumps and write them into sections that are somewhere in the range of 200 and 300 bases long. Each piece is allotted an index to distinguish its area in the record, and the DNA sequencers at that point read the parts to reassemble the document. Be that as it may, the innovation is costly, up to $3,500 to combine 1 megabit of data.

A further peculiarity of this study is that the digital data that are fixed in the genomes of bacteria can also be transmitted to their descendants. The information is thus “copied” with redundancy from generation to generation and this can protect the same data from the degradation it could encounter in the presence, for example, of contaminants. In this way it may be possible to save a large amount of data without running the risk of it being lost. Furthermore, during the experiments, the researchers realized that the messages can also be read when Escherichia coli is mixed with other bacterial species.

Ultimately, we are faced with a truly incredible discovery that could open the door to a new way of storing digital data directly in the genomes of living bacteria cells and not in DNA molecules. “We are at the dawn of a new era for data archiving. We are still not in the least able to compete with current memory storage systems. But at least, for now, we may have found an effective way to hide information, ”Wang said.

Learn more on CRISPR on the School of Disruption!

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