Stanford's RAD device for switching DNA sequences back and forth  (Source: Science Daily)
RAD could one day be used to help study cancer, aging and organismal development

Stanford University researchers have found a way to switch certain DNA sequences back and forth.

Jerome Bonnet, PhD, study leader and postdoctoral scholar at Stanford University, along with graduate student Pakpoom Subsoontorn and assistant professor Drew Endy, have created a technique for encoding and erasing digital data in living cells' DNA. In other words, they have made a genetic equivalent of a binary digit where a section of DNA points in one direction indicating a zero, and another section points in a different direction indicating a one.

The researchers created a device called a recombinase addressable data module, or RAD. RAD is used to modify sections of DNA with natural enzymes from bacteria. These enzymes, when applied to a section of DNA, glow red or green when RAD is in use. This shows how the one-celled organisms will glow under ultraviolet light depending on the orientation of the section of DNA. This allows the researchers to flip the DNA sequences back and forth.

Previous research allowed sections of DNA to be switched, but only indefinitely. They couldn't be switched back. But the Stanford researchers found a way to switch the sequences back through controlling two key proteins: integrase and excisionase. By controlling the dynamics of these two proteins, they created a fully reusable binary data register. Without control of these proteins, they would become active at the same time or concentrated in the wrong amounts, leading to individual cells creating random results. When the proteins were used together in the same cell, there was no balance or control, but the researchers used them separately and were able to switch the DNA sequences back and forth.

"It took us three years and 750 tries to make it work, but we finally did it," said Bonnet.

Bonnet tested the RAD modules in single microbes, and they were able to switch the DNA sequences over 100 times. The method allowed for repeat encoding, storing and erasing of digital data within the DNA of biological cells.

The next step is to go from a single bit to eight bits, or a full byte, of programmable data storage. This, however, will take about a decade according to Endy.

"I'm not even really concerned with the ways genetic data storage might be useful down the road, only in creating scalable and reliable biological bits as soon as possible," said Endy. "Then we'll put them in the hands of other scientists to show the world how they might be used."

RAD could one day be used to help study cancer, aging and organismal development.

Source: Science Daily

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