Researchers at Standford University have managed to insert rewritable digital data into the DNA of living cells. The team of three bioengineers have come up with a way to to flip specific DNA sequences back and forth, producing a binary system that can be coded into cells.
The “…method for repeatedly encoding, storing, and erasing digital data within the DNA of living cells” took the researchers three years and 750 attempt to achieve and the resulting “recombinase addressable data” (RAD) module could possibly allow researchers to monitor cells from the inside, manipulating or turning off some cells before they become cancerous.
Natural enzymes are used to flip DNA sequences and the switch, which only comprises a bit at the moment, now carries over in cells that have multiplied.
Eric Klavins, associate professor at the University of Washington, said “The Endy group’s one-bit memory device is a further demonstration that a biological engineering approach incorporating directed evolution can be used to build digital behaviors in biological systems. Furthermore, the system seems to be remarkably robust, which is quite difficult to achieve in synthetic biology.”
In computing terms, the researcher’s advance could form the basis for organic non-volatile memory. The group, which is being led by Dr. Jerome Bonnet, are now working on creating a full byte. Associate professor Drew Endy believes that it could take a further seven years to advance that far.