Scientists encode video in DNA of live bacteria


New research demonstrates the possibilities of using DNA to store data.


The original animation and the version reconstructed from the bacteria’s DNA.
The original animation and the version reconstructed from the bacteria’s DNA.
Shipman et al., Nature 2017

The next data storage solution may turn out to be inside our noses rather than under them, as scientists are looking to the DNA of living organisms as a place to house bits of the world’s ever-growing mass of information.

Recent work involving the CRISPR system – a tool that can engineer genomes at will by using two proteins – has indicated that it is possible to store information into living cells, through the process of inserting genetic code into their DNA.

This new research involved inserting representations of images and even a short, low-resolution animated GIF into Escherichia coli by using nucleotides – DNA’s building blocks – to produce a code that describes the pixels of each image.

In the case of the GIF – based on 19th-century photographer Eadweard Muybridge’s famous study of a horse in motion – the code for each of the 5 frames needed to be delivered sequentially into the genome of the bacteria.

Once inserted in the E. Coli, the data could then be successfully re-accessed with around 90% accuracy by reading the pixel-nucleotide code that scientists revealed by sequencing the bacteria’s DNA.

The research is published in Nature.

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Angus Bezzina is a writer from Sydney, Australia.
  1. https://www.nature.com/nature/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nature23017.html
  2. https://www.nature.com/nature/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nature23017.html
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