Direct digital-to-biological data storage in DNA in living cells

January 13, 2021 // By Nick Flaherty
Encoding 72bits of data into DNA in a living cell
A team at Columbia University in the US has stored and recovered digital data in the DNA of living bacteria.

Researchers in the US have succeeded in coding digital data into living cells using DNA processing techniques.

The team at Columbia used what it calls a ‘electrogenetic’ framework for direct storage of digital data in living cells. Using an engineered redox-responsive CRISPR adaptation system, they used an electromagnetic field to encode up to 72bits of binary data in 3-bit units into arrays of single cell e. coli bacteria. In classic computing style, this 72bits read ‘Hello World’.

The key thing with the DNA encoding is that it survives through multiple generations of the bacteria and is recovered using CISPR DNA technology analysis techniques that have become widespread as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

This establishes a direct digital-to-biological data storage framework and advances our capacity for information exchange between silicon- and carbon-based entities says Sung Sun Yim of the Department of Systems Biology, Columbia University, in a paper in Nature Chemical Biology.

Using DNA to store data is a key area of research to provide higher density storage. Back in March 2019, Microsoft and the University of Washington in the US showed an automated process for storing of data on DNA, but this used artificial, synthesized DNA. It had previously managed to store 1Gbit of data on DNA, but the researchers have been quiet since the end of 2019.

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