Published: Sat, July 15, 2017
Medicine | By Megan Pierce

Simple movie of galloping horse encoded into DNA of living bacteria

Simple movie of galloping horse encoded into DNA of living bacteria

For the first time, researchers have used the CRISPR-Cas microbial immune system to encode a primitive digital movie into - and then 'play it back' from - the genomes of living E.coli bacteria.

Scientists at Harvard University announced Wednesday they have successfully encoded a movie using DNA in living cells, a major step toward a "molecular recorder" that would help reveal more about human brain development. 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. They were then placed together in a sequence, reconstructing the galloping horse with 90 percent accuracy. However, this is the first time that science encoded and then played back a video such as this one in living bacteria cells.

A team of researchers from Harvard University managed to fulfill one of the most unusual and amazing achievements in genetics.

"Maybe a single cell saw a few pixels from frame one and a few pixels from frame four... so we had to look at the relation of all those pieces of information in the genomes of these living cells and say: can we reconstruct the entire movie over time?"

They expect the futuristic "molecular ticker tape" to read stages like that of the changing internal states of neurons as they develop.

This is also the reason why a GIF was used as there is a time element to this process where there is a need to retrieve and sequence that GIF, which directly correlates to the tracking of the cell changes.

Scientists Used CRISPR to Put a GIF Inside Living DNA

Research now shows that the countermeasure viruses came up with - inhibitory proteins referred to as anti-CRISPRs - can be used to improve CRISPR-Cas9 as a gene-therapy tool, decreasing off-target gene editing that could cause unwanted side effects.

Due to its dynamic, if brief, nature, encoding the historic horse GIF presented unique challenges something like sticking an old static image into living bacteria. The paper authors see bacterial DNA as a form of information storage, almost like a computer's hard drive. This place defines guide RNA (trnk), which binds to a specific site of recognition by the principle of complementarity. This in case, the images were transferred into E.coli bacteria. The movie, a 36 x 26-pixel GIF of one of the first moving images ever recorded: a galloping mare named Annie G., by Eadweard Muybridge. And we can get complex computer programmes by using different compositions of codes made from different arrangements of the binaries 0 and 1 (it's actually a lot more complicated than that - just ask a software engineer). Experts say this gene-editing method can be used to eliminate mutations that cause diseases or disabilities. "It turns out that. the phages have evolved ways to fight off the CRISPR systems, and that's these anti-CRISPR proteins".

Then, the researchers inserted short DNA fragments containing these codes into bacteria, and the bacteria incorporated the fragments into their genome.

Though this technology could be applied in a variety of ways, Harvard researchers ultimately hope to use it to study the brain. Whether they are in texts, tweets, or articles, GIFs are now a staple of how we communicate in the modern world.

The CRISPR-Cas9 protein uses this memory to destroy the same viruses when they return. That was long before the molecular-biology revolution, and decades before anyone could sequence DNA - much less edit it. If this isn't exciting news for the future, then what is?

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