This 3D printed rabbit is proof that we are becoming potential flash drives with legs

It is not the first time that DNA has been used as an information encoding system. However, it is the first time it has been used to save self-replication instructions.

And it is not only impressive the storage capacity that is so sophisticated that it is arriving, capable of containing the information so that a printer is capable of printing the model of a rabbit in three dimensions several times, but also demonstrates that the instructions they can incorporate the ability to self-replicate.

3D print a rabbit with DNA

The team of Yaniv Erlich, at the ETH in Zurich, has managed, for the first time as they claim, to store the instructions for a 3D printer to print a figure, a specific rabbit. This involves not only the model information itself, but also the instructions for doing so. With this step, the researchers affirm, we are facing the first examples of informative self-replication using DNA.

Self-replication is one of the inherent properties of DNA, the molecule that carries all the information about life. To be useful, DNA needs to be copied (replicated) and for this it has a series of very sophisticated instructions and mechanisms. Erlich's team has managed to use and implement these mechanisms in a DNA molecule that stored external information.

Thus, we are getting closer to effectively using DNA as a format to transport information without loss problems. This has several advantages, the researchers affirm, since in addition to having the characteristic of presenting a high informative density, as we have told you on other occasions, it is the only liquid storage format that exists, and contains highly sophisticated security measures. , due to molecular biology, to safeguard the information.

The team, to demonstrate their feat, has managed to print not one but five rabbits in 3D, whose instructions weigh about 45 kb, demonstrating that they can self-replicate DNA molecules, which are encapsulated in silicon microbeads. Each rabbit was printed by the team, as we explained, without the need to synthesize a new DNA molecule, taking advantage of the self-replicating capacity of the molecule arranged by the team.

Hard drives with legs

There are numerous initiatives trying to find the best way to take advantage of the incredible potential of DNA storage. Probably the first demonstration that DNA can be used as a format to store information is the famous CRISPR GIF representing a running horse that was achieved using this technique.

Among the most advanced we find the "DNA computer", developed by the Rochester University of New York, capable of calculating the square root, from 1 to 900, using 32 strands of DNA. To do this they use a natural process of replication, hybridization, to encode the calculations. As we said, Microsoft is trying to concentrate an incredible amount of information on a piece of DNA and they already have a relatively simple machine capable of reading the information.

With all of the above, we are approaching an interesting point in the technique. Will we be able to store information in our DNA like Johnny Mnemonic (but with DNA)? Technically speaking, it is possible. To do this, we have tools like CRISPR to rewrite the genetic material. We also have, as we have seen, the first self-replicating steps and the flourishing technology of DNA reading. If we wanted to, we could introduce certain information into our cells that we could later retrieve with a reader.

This, of course, is not so simple, because before it is necessary to know for sure that such information will not produce, for example, the corruption of genetic material (producing mutations or the unwanted expression of any characteristic). But the opportunity is there, closer than ever. If not, in any case, we will always have the opportunity to store the information in a DNA soup, storing a never-dreamed amount of information, which is no small feat.

Images | Unsplash

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