DNA acts as a kind of read-only biological data storage device. Now biologists have managed to turn DNA into a form of rewritable memory, just like our computers.
However, it’s not the first rewritable biological storage system to be made, earlier proteins which bond to DNA was used to do the same. But it’s the first time that it has been done inside DNA.
The researchers of Stanford University spliced genetic elements from a bacterium-infecting virus into the DNA of Escherichia coli. They got a stretch of DNA flanked by sites which indicate to enzymes that the DNA can be “cut” and then “pasted” in reverse orientation. The process can be performed repeatedly, at least 16 times.
“It’s a pretty sad criticism of the state of technology in synthetic biology where we’re trying to program the expression of half a dozen genes and it takes 750 design attempts to get that working. It’s like trying to write a six-line code on a computer that takes 750 debug attempts to work.”
But even though it took so long to get, it’s an important achievement. Eric Klavins (University of Washington in Seattle) explains to Nature why is it so interesting:
“What Drew’s group can do that others haven’t demonstrated is the ability to cycle the memory element over and over, kind of like you can write a bit to a hard drive, read it and change it back over and over again.”
Indeed, the whole point of this research is to create biological, digital storage devices that can be employed within synthetic biological systems, it will probably never power your hard drive, it might be in living creatures before your life is through.