Researchers discover how to record movies in living cells using CRISPR

A new CRISPR-based technology is enabling researchers to record and replay digital data, like a short clip of a galloping horse, in a population of living bacteria.

Researchers from the Wyss Institute for Biologically published a  study in the journal Nature detailing foundational proof-of-principle experiments where the CRISPR system was able to encode complex information such as a digitised image of a human hand, or a sequence of one of the first motion pictures made ever, that of a galloping horse, in living cells.

“We designed strategies that essentially translate the digital information contained in each pixel of an image or frame as well as the frame number into a DNA code, that, with additional sequences, is incorporated into spacers. Each frame thus becomes a collection of spacers,” said Seth Shipman, the study’s first author.

“We then provided spacer collections for consecutive frames chronologically to a population of bacteria which, using Cas1/Cas2 activity, added them to the CRISPR arrays in their genomes. And after retrieving all arrays again from the bacterial population by DNA sequencing, we finally were able to reconstruct all frames of the galloping horse movie and the order they appeared in.”

CRISPR-Cas: Molecular Recording from Wyss Institute on Vimeo.

The researchers say that in the future this molecular recording device could allow them to have cells record the key changes they undergo during their development or when they are or exposed to stresses and pathogens.

Additionally, the Wyss Institute team also say they will focus on establishing molecular recording devices in other cell types and on further engineering the system so that it can memorise biological information.

“Harnessed further, this approach could present a way to cue different types of living cells in their natural tissue environments into recording the formative changes they are undergoing into a synthetically created memory hotspot in their genomes,” said Shipman.

“This groundbreaking technology advances the field of DNA-based information storage by leveraging the biological machinery of living cells to record, archive and propagate that information, in addition to potentially providing a new way to study dynamic biological and developmental processes inside the living body. It is yet another example of bioinspired engineering at its best,” added Wyss Institute Founding Director Donald Ingber.

Image courtesy of Wyss Institute at Harvard University

The new study published in Nature build on the researchers’ previous work where they built the first molecular recorder based on the CRISPR system, which allowed cells to acquire simple bits of chronologically provided, DNA-encoded information.

However, Shipman said: “As promising as this was, we did not know what would happen when we tried to track about a hundred sequences at once, or if it would work at all. This was critical since we are aiming to use this system to record complex biological events as our ultimate goal.”

In a galaxy not so far away: 6 pieces of Star Wars tech that have (sort of) entered reality

Star Wars day has rolled around once again and to celebrate, we’re taking a look at some of the tech from the galaxy far, far away that has managed to find its way from fiction to reality.

While you won’t be making the Kessel Run for the foreseeable future, you could well see some of the below creeping more and more into everyday life. May the Fourth be with you.

R2-D2: The Knightscope security bot

Composite: Images courtesy of 20th Century Fox / Knightscope

So yes, R2 was technically meant for ships not security, but the films always hammered home that he is almost absurdly multipurpose. And while I’m not sure he ever showed any particular forensic capabilities as displayed by his real-life Knightscope counterpart, that little taser seems pretty handy for security jobs. Looking somewhere between R2 and a Dalek, the Knightscope bot is designed to put a bit more tech into the security field while removing human guards from potential harm’s way.

Take some of its capabilities in a somewhat less law enforcement direction and, until we have X-wings to stick him in, you practically have your very own friendly astromech.

Landspeeders/Hoverbikes: The Malloy Hoverbike

Composite: Images courtesy of 20th Century Fox / Malloy Aeronautics

I’m personally convinced that the hoverbikes of the Star Wars universe would result in far more deaths than the already risky motorbikes, given that they seem to travel at speeds your eyes would definitely struggle to keep up with. Seriously, why would you fly these things on a moon that is almost entirely forest?

However, that’s not to say we shouldn’t take influence from them and their more sedate cousin, the landspeeder, as with the Malloy Hoverbike. Utilising four rotors, the Hoverbike is able to fly to the same height and at the same speed as a typical light helicopter while also able to safely operate close to the ground. Just maybe steer clear of teddy bears.

Luke’s cybernetic hand: Bionic limbs

Composite: Images courtesy of 20th Century Fox / Cybathlon

Artificial limbs have been around for a while now but we’re still working towards the ideal shown with a cybernetic replacement like Luke Skywalker’s. We can replace a limb, but until it can work as smoothly as a real limb, we’ve still got a way to go.

However, the field is constantly advancing, even today a new bionic hand has been reported on that is able to “see” objects and instantly decide on the necessary grip. We’re not recommending limb loss, but it’s nice to know that should something horrific happen that perfect Luke cosplay is closer than ever.

Hologram communications: Microsoft’s HoloLens

Composite: Images courtesy of 20th Century Fox / Microsoft

It’s one of the most iconic moments in the franchise: “Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You’re my only hope.” However, while communication technology is pretty much steamrolling forward, we’re yet to have friends popping out of our phones with their messages.

Perhaps not for much longer though, as Microsoft’s HoloLens can be used to pull up Skype video calls as holographic panels or send short holographic scenes to friends. It can’t be too long before all those annoying memes can be projecting directly out to you rather than quietly sitting unread.

C-3PO: The Romeo humanoid robot

Composite: Images courtesy of 20th Century Fox / Aldebaran Robotics

He’s a little shorter than C-3PO, and knows a hell of a lot less languages, but the Romeo robot is one of the closer attempts we have to creating a humanoid robot for the purpose of companion-like assistance to humans.

Able to open doors, climb stairs and reach objects on a table, Romeo is not so much for helping fancy Senators or assuming deity over Ewoks, but is intended to work as an assistant to the elderly and those losing autonomy. However, stick a bunch more vocabulary into him and up the snootiness and you’ve got yourself a protocol droid.

Lightsabers: This flaming safety hazard of awesomeness

I don’t really know what can be said for this that the video doesn’t show off. It is a handle that mixes methanol and acetone before propelling them out of a nozzle at the top of the handle with butane.

A heated coil then sets the mix alight and you get a reasonable facsimile of a lightsabre. It won’t be melting through blast doors anytime soon, but for looks and risks to younglings alone, you’re unlikely to do much better.