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Scientists Store Information in Live Organism for the First Time

14 Julio 2017

The CRISPR inhibitor targets a spot on the Cas9 protein that is so essential for Cas9's function that it cannot operate to cut DNA when it's bound by the anti-CRISPR.

"We used images in movies to show the power of the system that we want to use to capture all sorts of biological activity into DNA", the study's first author, Seth Shipman from Harvard Medical School told Gizmodo.

CRISPR-short for Clustered, Regularly Interspaced, Short Palindromic Repeats-is a genetic phenomenon found in microbes that scientists adapted to disable a gene or add DNA at precise locations in the genetic code.

The study was supported by grants from the National Institute of Mental Health (5R01MH103910), the National Human Genome Research Institute (5P50HG005550), Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (5R01NS045523), Paul G. Allen Frontiers Group, and Wyss Institute.

Apart from the spectacle of immortalising this already famous horse flick, researchers say the technique used here could enable living cells to become a real-time "molecular recorder", capturing unseen biological developments inside the body like a kind of organic Digital Video Recorder. This in case, the images were transferred into E.coli bacteria. When researchers sequenced the bacterial DNA, they were able to retrieve and replay the moving images with 90 percent accuracy.

Muybridge's footage is on the left and the footage retrieved from a living cell is on the right. We also uncover underlying principles of the CRISPR-Cas adaptation system, including sequence determinants of spacer acquisition that are relevant for understanding both the basic biology of bacterial adaptation and its technological applications.

The choice of image and video weren't random. In doing so, we push the technical limits of this information storage system and optimize strategies to minimize those limitations.

CRISPR helps bacteria to develop immunity against the constant onslaught of viruses in their different environments. First, the scientists encoded the pixels into DNA.

Using DNA to store data isn't new, but until now the data was stored in synthetic - not living - DNA.

Through a multi-lab effort, researchers discovered that this anti-CRISPR protein worked by attaching to a pocket on the Cas9 enzyme where DNA typically binds, preventing it from accessing DNA.

DNA is emerging as an excellent medium for storing data. "The actual timing information is carried in the order of the sequences of the genome as you read it". The team then grows the bacterial population, which they then sequence, reading the DNA, and translate, recreating the image.

Research published earlier this year pointed to the potential of the technology to introduce hundreds of unintended mutations into the genetic material of treated organisms.

"We can use that to generate what we call molecular records, or recordings, into the genome of a living bacteria".

The study demonstrated that one particular anti-CRISPR protein called AcrIIA4 reduced by four-fold the off-target effects of a CRISPR-Cas9 molecule that uses a guide RNA to find, snip and replace the mutated hemoglobin gene responsible for sickle cell disease.

Scientists Store Information in Live Organism for the First Time