DNA “Memory” Enables Rewritable Data Storage in Cells

Achievement date: 
2013
Outcome/accomplishment: 

Researchers at the Synthetic Biology Engineering Research Center (SynBERC), an NSF-funded center headquartered at the University of  California at Berkeley, have created a one-bit “memory” made of DNA that can record, erase, and rewrite data within living cells. Previously, DNA-based memory could write a piece of information only once.

Impact/benefits: 

The researchers created a system that allows information to be erased and rewritten repeatedly, like burning new information onto a CD with each pass. “What we didn’t have is some kind of logic that also has memory,” says Pakpoom Subsoontorn, a graduate student on the team.

Explanation/Background: 

The rewriteable recombinase addressable data (RAD) module reliably stores digital information in a chromosome, and is capable of passive information storage for more than 100 cell divisions. It can also be switched repeatedly without performance degradation, as is required to support combinatorial data storage.

One day, doctors might be able to insert such devices into a cancer patient to tally how many times a cell divides and then to signal when to shut the cancer down; or researchers might track exactly what happens inside cells as they age. “We can write and erase DNA in a living cell,” says Jerome Bonnet, a bioengineer at Stanford University. “Now we can bring logic and computation inside a cell itself.”