CRISPR is the hottest name around right now. Standing for clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats, CRISPR (pronounced ‘crisper’) is found naturally as part of the defence system that bacteria employ to protect themselves from foreign DNA. It has been hijacked by scientists who now use it as a highly specific gene-editing tool and it seems like there is no limit to its potential.
A lot of CRISPR talk relates to how it might be used in the context of disease. Being able to target pathogens very precisely could open doors to many exciting new therapies. Sometimes though, it seems like the researchers may just be having a bit of fun.
It was announced in Nature this week that CRISPR has been used to store a short movie in the genome of living bacteria. They started with a simple image of a hand where the individual pixels could be seen clearly. They encoded the pixel values of the images into the DNA and in one case found that the pixels were reproduced by the bacteria with 96% accuracy. A whole population was screened as not every individual will have acquired the entire sequence as intended.
They then moved on to attempting the same feat with a GIF and found that the bacteria reproduced them with over 90% accuracy. Amazingly, the group were able to demonstrate that the population of cells could produce a clip of a galloping horse.
This experiment shows just how good DNA is as a storage vehicle for a large amount of data. A recent New Scientist article claims that DNA could theoretically be used to store “roughly 100 billion DVDs“. This particular film is short but I am sure that we are nowhere near the end of the CRISPR story.