Totally rad: Scientists create rewritable digital data storage in DNA

“One of the coolest places for computing is within biological systems.”             Drew Endy, PhD

Imagine being able to use the DNA of a living cell to store data.  Not only would it be an incredible tool for researchers studying cell division, cancer, evolution, aging, and many other biological fields, but also it could lead to a way of storing information without consuming power.  Amazingly, a lab out of Stanford’s Bioengineering Department reported this week that it was able to record a single bit of data in this manner.

The team calls its device a “recombinase addressable data” module, or RAD for short.

Alright, already loving the name.

They used RAD to modify a particular section of DNA within microbes that determines how the one-celled organisms will fluoresce under ultraviolet light. The microbes glow red or green depending upon the orientation of the section of DNA. Using RAD, the engineers can flip the section back and forth at will.

Their system seems to be reliable after many cellular divisions, as well as rewrite-able, which is quite a feat in an environment as dynamic as a microbe. Going forward, the team hopes to work towards an 8-bit of genetic programmable data.  This may take years, but the scientists are excited by their progress and prospects.  

Paper: “Rewritable digital data storage in live cells via engineered control of recombination directionality,” Bonnet, J., Subsoontorn, P. & Endy, D. PNAS, … s.1202344109 (2012).



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