World’s Smallest Tape Recorder is Built From Microbes


Source: Columbia University Medical Center

Summary: Researchers with the help of a few smart molecular hacks have created a microscopic data recorder by taking the advantage of bacterial immune system.


CRISPR (Clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) and its associated proteins, Cas, together form CRISPR-Cas and act as an adaptive immune system in many bacterial species. CRISPR-Cas memorizes snippets of DNA from invading viruses so that next generations bacteria can repel these pathogens in a very effective manner. CRISPR locus of the bacterial genome collects a chronological record of the bacterial viruses and if the same viruses try to infect them again, the CRISPR-Cas system is able to recognize and eliminate them. Researchers from the Columbia University Medical Center, with the help of a few smart molecular hacks, have created a microscopic data recorder by taking the advantage of this CRISPR-Cas of the human gut microbe Escherichia coli. The research findings were published in the journal Science.

Microscopic data recorder stores biological signals into a CRISPR tape in bacteria.

Audio signals can be stored in a magnetic tape medium; similarly, the microscopic data recorder stores biological signals into a CRISPR tape in bacteria. Credit: Wang Lab/Columbia University Medical Center

Normally, CRISPR-Cas uses its recorded sequences to detect and cut the incoming phages DNA. This specific DNA cutting activity of CRISPR-Cas has made it the darling of gene therapy researchers. Wang lab’s research team have built the microscopic recorder by modifying a piece of DNA (plasmid) and giving it the ability to generate more copies of itself in the bacterial cells in response to an external signal. This microscopic recorder enables the bacteria to not only record their interactions with the environment but also time-stamp the events. Other applications may include in the basic studies of ecology and microbiology, where bacteria could monitor invisible changes.

Assoc. Prof. Harris Wang said, “The CRISPR-Cas system is a natural biological memory device”, “From an engineering perspective that’s actually quite nice, because it’s already a system that has been honed through evolution to be really great at storing information” and further added, “Such bacteria, swallowed by a patient, might be able to record the changes they experience through the whole digestive tract, yielding an unprecedented view of previously inaccessible phenomena.”


More Information: R.U. Sheth et al, “Multiplex recording of cellular events over time into a CRISPR biological tape,” Science (2017). science.sciencemag.org/lookup/ … 1126/science.aao0958


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