Movie Encoded in DNA is the First Step Toward Datalogging with Living Cells

While DNA is a reasonably good storage medium, it’s not particularly fast, cheap, or convenient to read and write to.

What if living cells could simplify that by recording useful data into their own DNA for later analysis? At Harvard Medical School, scientists are working towards this goal by using CRISPR to encode and retrieve a short video in bacterial cells.

CRISPR is part of the immune system of many bacteria, and works by storing sequences of viral DNA in a specific location to identify and eliminate viral infections. As a tool for genetic engineering, it’s cheaper and has fewer drawbacks than previous techniques.

Besides generating living rickrolls and DMCA violations, what is this good for? Cheap, self-replicating sensors. [Seth Shipman], part of the team of scientists at Harvard, explains in an interview below a number of possible applications. His focus is engineering cells to act as a noninvasive data acquisition tool to study neurobiology, for example by using engineered neurons to record their developmental history.

It’s possible to see how this technique can be used more broadly and outside an academic context. Presently, biosensors generally use electric or fluorescent transducers to relay a detection event. By recording data over time in the DNA of living cells, biosensors could become much cheaper and contain intrinsic datalogging. Possible applications could include long-term metabolite (e.g. glucose) monitors, chemical detectors, and quality control.

It’s worth noting that this technique is only at the proof of concept stage. Data was recorded and retrieved manually by the scientists into the bacterial genome with 90% accuracy, demonstrating that if cells can be engineered to record data themselves, accuracy and capacity are high enough for practical applications.

That being said, if anyone is working on a MEncoder or ffmpeg command line option for this, let us know in the comments.

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What’s happening at LIFE.hackaday lateley

corkIf you haven’t been over to LIFE.hackaday lately, maybe you should check it out.

You could be learning how to be a hero with a wine cork, or how to easily break string without scissors(or your teeth). Need new ways to mount your tablet? We’ve got you covered. However, the story that is probably most important right now is how to keep your ice cream from getting that freezer burnt section on the top.

Announcing LIFE.hackaday

life-logoOver the years we’ve had a tons of tips sent in that were more along the lines of “lifehacks”. Simple little tips to make life better. While we would occasionally squeeze them into hackaday, many got left behind. Now we’ve created an entire site called LIFE.hackaday that we’re filling with all these great ideas. Finally, a place for all those docks people send us!

Occasionally, there might be something that we feel works for the “classic” hackaday and “LIFE.”, in which case, we may just mention it here. We hope that by creating another site, we can give people the “lifehacks” they want while keeping hackaday focused on hardware hacking.

We have some other tricks up our sleeve, but they aren’t quite ready to be revealed yet.