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Cate Swannell
Med J Aust 2017; 207 (3): 97. || doi: 10.5694/mja17.n0708
Published online: 7 August 2017

US scientists have taken images and a short movie from Eadweard Muybridge’s Human and animal locomotion and encoded them into the DNA of bacteria using the CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) system. This achievement, reported in Nature, expands on previous demonstrations that DNA provides a promising medium for storing digital data in living cells. Recent work has indicated that information could be transferred into living cells using the CRISPR system, which uses two proteins to insert genetic code into the DNA of target cells. Seth Shipman and colleagues from Harvard Medical School demonstrated this ability by using the CRISPR system to encode images and a short GIF file (five frames of the mare ‘Annie G.’ galloping from Human and Animal Locomotion at 36×26 pixels) in Escherichia coli. They used nucleotides, the building blocks of DNA, to produce a code that related to the individual pixels of each image. For the GIF, sequences were delivered frame-by-frame over time to living bacteria, where they were inserted into the genome in the order in which they were delivered. Once inserted into the genome of E. coli, the data could then be retrieved by sequencing the DNA, and the images reconstructed by reading the pixel nucleotide code, which was achieved with about 90% accuracy. In addition to establishing that the CRISPR system may enable the recording of practical amounts of data in living cells, the study also reveals new insights into the functioning of the CRISPR system. For example, the authors determined which sequences are best for transferring data into the genome, which could also guide other applications of the CRISPR system.

  • Cate Swannell


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