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Biologists Use Gene Editing To Store Movies In DNA ( 87

New submitter elmohound writes: A recent paper in Nature describes how gene editing was used to store a digital movie into a bacterial population. The choice of subject is a nice hommage to Muybridge's 1887 photos. From a report via Scientific American: "The technical achievement, reported on July 12 in Nature, is a step towards creating cellular recording systems that are capable of encoding a series of events, says Seth Shipman, a synthetic biologist at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts. To develop such a system, however, his team would need to establish a method for recording hundreds of events in a cell. Shipman and his colleagues, including Harvard geneticist George Church, harnessed the CRISPR-Cas immune system best known for enabling researchers to alter genomes with relative ease and accuracy. Shipman's team exploited the ability to capture snippets of DNA from invading viruses and store them in an organized array in the host genome. In nature, those snippets then target an enzyme to slice up the invader's DNA. The team designed its system so that these snippets corresponded to pixels in an image. The researchers encoded the shading of each pixel -- along with a barcode that indicated its position in the image -- into 33 DNA letters. Each frame of the movie consisted of 104 of these DNA fragments." You can view the movie here, which consists of five frames adapted from Muybridge's Human and Animal Locomotion series.
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Biologists Use Gene Editing To Store Movies In DNA

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  • by sg_oneill ( 159032 ) on Friday July 14, 2017 @06:04AM (#54807103)

    Although storing a *movie* in DNA isn't in it self particularly useful, this is an impressive feat and demonstrative of just how much of a revolution CRISPR really is. The golden age of gene tweaking we where promised is upon us. Now, what are we gonna do with it.

    • Now, what are we gonna do with it.

      Here here, an allusion to rule 34.

    • by msauve ( 701917 )
      "The golden age of gene tweaking we where promised is upon us. Now, what are we gonna do with it."

      You don't watch The Walking Dead, do you?
    • The obvious! I want a blue puppy with gills so I can take it in the pool with me. Also some jellyfish DNA so I can see him in the dark.

      Ok, ok. We will use it for something practical like bigger boobs.
    • How long till I can actually record something on a potato?
    • by Rick Schumann ( 4662797 ) on Friday July 14, 2017 @11:56AM (#54809071) Journal
      Try this experiment if you dare: Create a random-sized file full of random 8-bit numbers. Rename it to "TEST.COM" and try to run it. Do this many times. Eventually it'll do something that completely fries your computer, or at least does something Bad. That's what I'm afraid of, encoding miscellaneous things like movies into DNA strands.
      • by WallyL ( 4154209 )

        My dad always said television would be the death of us. Now I know he was a prophet!

      • Try this experiment if you dare: Create a random-sized file full of random 8-bit numbers. Rename it to "TEST.COM" and try to run it. Do this many times. Eventually it'll do something that completely fries your computer

        Only if your OS is badly broken. Most hardware these days is also pretty resilient to harm from bad code. That wasn't the case decades ago, when you could do things like slamming disk heads against their stops hard enough to break them.

        or at least does something Bad.

        Yeah, probably. Crash the machine, sure.. Screw up some of your data, maybe.

        What you describe is what security researchers call "fuzzing" and it's a very common (and useful) practice.

        That's what I'm afraid of, encoding miscellaneous things like movies into DNA strands.

        As opposed to the way nature does it, with random mutations and recombinations? Biologists

        • *shrug* you learn something new every day, I guess.
          But on the other hand, science seems to have "Wow, we never thought 'X' was possible!" moments all the time. Just sayin'..
      • You understand why that was an issue under DOS? A .com file is interpreted as machine instructions directly and any process could execute a dangerous instruction. It hasn't been an issue since the WinNT days because of protected mode which limits the set of instructions that a user process can execute.
      • "Do this many times."

        You missed "Make tiny variations and discard the half which does the least".

        This kind of experiment was run on a small FPGA, and a goal was set to have a clock, an input, and an output. The goal was achieved after a remarkably small number of generations, iirc something like 20. It turned out the GA had only used half the available gates, including some "junk" gates that appeared to do nothing. Two things were observed: 1. the arrangement of gates was nothing like any experienced design

      • As for "does something Bad" in the context of DNA, yawn. Diseases have been doing this since there was DNA to mess with. Creating a disease from scratch that can itself survive thousands of generations is extremely difficult. You can't just "patch" ape DNA and expect it to work. This is why existing diseases, viral or bacterial, are built upon for a) weaponized disease or b) cures for other diseases.

    • An excellent podcast from radiolab about CRISPR: []

    • Jurassic Park 7.

  • Encoding information in DNA is just one step toward achieving a larger goal: data logging into cell genomes. What Seth Shipman is trying figure out more about our brains like how neurons determine which type of thing to become. From his own page: []

    Yet, despite identical genetics, the neurons in our brain are remarkably diverse at the molecular level – diversity that defines unique cellular properties (think morphology, localization, projection profile, and neurotransmitter type for example) that can be used to classify the mature cell into a category of cell-type.

    This video has more information. []

  • Being able to record detailed data in a genome raises the question: has this already been done before?

    • Being able to record detailed data in a genome raises the question: has this already been done before?

      Yes. Star Trek season 6 episode 20 []

    • Yes. We're some alien race's holiday movie archive. I, for example, am a trip to Venus. But hey, I don't complain, just imagine the poor guy that is the hellhole trip to Uranus.

      • The use of movie frames as data is just a proof of concept stunt of course, but what if that word-ending event everyone fears turns out to be some alien equivalent of the RIAA lobbing an asteroid into what they think is another race's pirate repository?

        • I'm pretty sure there's already an interstellar lawsuit going on where it's become illegal in some solar systems to point with easy to remember names at our coordinates in space.

  • by tavi.g ( 816536 )

    Ever since I read the Dune series, Bene Gesserit was my favorite faction. To be able to draw upon the experience of your ancestors, have it within you and need no tech, what a treasure. And now, with these types of technology, I can't help but think how our knowledge could finally be encoded in our DNA. Think about being able to leave messages for your descendants encoded in your DNA. Or deeds, or a "species blockchain" that can record notable events.. Encoding brain-muscle memory for physical skills like m

    • So... The Voice was just the advent of talkies?

    • " have it within you and need no tech,"

      The technology to read DNA is complex. Who knows if we will have it in the future. Clay tablets may be limited, but they can be read by eye.

    • by Misagon ( 1135 )

      Blockchains you say? Then some kids in the future may truly be born rich.

    • "Maybe we'll have a specialized tumor/organ at some point in our bodies, holding just artificially inserted data and the mechanism to read that data and output it to one of our senses. Or even an Nth sense: "read DNA memory". Finally, a way for our species' knowledge to survive even if civilization collapses."

      As another dune fan this is awesome! On side note the first breast implant was done in 1895 to actress who had mastectomy but surgeon used a benign growth on spine as implant. So idea of using such thi

  • Jeeez, guys - get a grip. This is equivalent to storing a dozen words - - - and stating that they have stored an encyclopedia.
    OK, so it's an animated GIF-like sequence - it's STILL ONLY FIVE IMAGES - NOT a FUCKING MOVIE ! ! !

    Granted, the technology will eventually graduate to the data density needed to actually STORE A MOVIE, it's still in it's early infant stage and just doesn't even come close to the article TITLE ! ! !

    Break out the mod points and have a ball, I'm karma flush - - - and THIS article deser

    • The first phone call consisted of a few words transmitted a short distance. The first movie was a short series of moving images. The first movie with people talking didn't have much dialogue in it. The first computers had pitiful storage space by modern standards and took up entire rooms.

      The "First" of something is always very limited. You're not going to get the DNA equivalent of a Blu-Ray Player from the first storage of a movie in DNA. However, as more people work on it and more advances are made, larger

  • by sad_ ( 7868 )

    the piracy tool we've all been waiting for!

    • Indeed. And we'll be going back to the 1960s with "free love"... every time you don't only get to make out, you also expand your movie library!
  • It's worth noting that the recovered data has errors. You can see that the recovered images don't look exactly the same as the original ones. So, currently this would need redundant data and checksums to ve a viable storage medium
  • So are we're going to be able to do what was in the Star Trek Next Generation episode The Chase [] or are we going to find it was already done to us?
  • I'm sure the lawyers are the RIAA and MPAA are already working on how to ruin this. Check for a job listing for a gene editing specialist. How does one ruin gene editing with DRM?

  • They're going to store Gattaca

  • Just think how we'll laugh when we learn that our whole existence is due to some alien race wanting to store their Saturday morning cartoons.

  • You mean "T," "G," "A," "C?"
  • by sanosuke001 ( 640243 ) on Friday July 14, 2017 @09:13AM (#54807725)
    Is there any chance that this "random" set of DNA sequences would create an invasive and deadly pathogen? Wouldn't it be dangerous to just blindly put together random DNA snippets into a microorganism? Storing DNA by itself seems fair but inside a living, evolving, and reproducing organism seems a bit short-sighted...
    • by sinij ( 911942 )
      Chances of this happening is about equal to mp4 file accidentally turning into a worm or malware. Possible, but only if you subscribe to multiverse theory.
      • by sinij ( 911942 )
        On this note, what would be really interesting is inserting malware into your own genes, so when someone attempt to analyze your DNA it wipe the system.

        I bet no genetic analysis software sanitizes input. What is DNA code for "=-1; DROP ALL TABLES; --"? As soon as I finish editing, I am going on a crime spree!
    • Could someone encode something in these genes that makes a person do something really annoying? And then infect random peop---

      Never gonna give you up, never gonna let you down
      Never gonna run around and desert you
      Never gonna make you cry, never gonna say goodbye
      Never gonna tell a lie and hurt you

      Wait, what was I saying again?

      • by sinij ( 911942 )
        It is likely possible (but we don't yet know how) change your reflexive responses. For example, change your stress response to cough instead of sweating. It is unlikely you can be specific enough to encode complex linguistic message in such reflexive response. The issue is that while we might understand language, the way it is encoded is unique to each individual - it is higher function. So to make someone spontaneously burst into Rickroll would also require making rickroll into reflexive response.

        If you a
  • ..did they have the copyright?

  • correlate with the deadliness of the virus? If yes, we should quarantine Transfomers 5 at once.

  • I commend scientists for finding a way to preserve the artistic integrity of Pauly Shore films through the decades using humans as the easily-reproduceable copies. In this way our robotic overlords can enjoy the hackneyed talent for millennia to come.

  • Just don't encode any zombie movies into DNA. Just in case.
  • was far more difficult to find a movie worth storing at all.
  • I wasn't exchanging bodily fluids with her. We were exchanging movies. You want to watch the new Wonder Woman movie?

  • I feel that movie in every fibre of my being. Literally.
  • The movie beings no benefit to bacteria, hence it will be slowly killed by mutations. I do not see how such a storage system could work without freezing the storage bacteria.
    • The movie beings no benefit to bacteria, hence it will be slowly killed by mutations

      To be precise: "it" refers to the movie, here. The bacteria will be fine.

I've finally learned what "upward compatible" means. It means we get to keep all our old mistakes. -- Dennie van Tassel