Researchers at Northwestern University have devised a new method for recording information to DNA that takes minutes rather than hours or days. Interesting Engineering reports: The researchers utilized a novel enzymatic system to synthesize DNA that records rapidly changing environmental signals straight into its sequences, and this method could revolutionize how scientists examine and record neurons inside the brain. To record intracellular molecular and digital data to DNA, scientists currently rely on multipart processes that combine new information with existing DNA sequences. This means that, for an accurate recording, they must stimulate and repress the expression of specific proteins, which can take over 10 hours to complete.
The new study’s researchers hypothesized they could make this process faster by utilizing a new method they call “Time-sensitive Untemplated Recording using Tdt for Local Environmental Signals,” or TURTLES. This way, they would synthesize completely new DNA rather than copying a template of it. The method enabled the data to be recorded into the genetic code in a matter of minutes. “Nature is good at copying DNA, but we really wanted to be able to write DNA from scratch,” Northwestern engineering professor Keith E.J. Tyo, the paper’s senior author, said, in the press release. “The ex vivo (outside the body) way to do this involves a slow, chemical synthesis. Our method is much cheaper to write information because the enzyme that synthesizes the DNA can be directly manipulated. State-of-the-art intracellular recordings are even slower because they require the mechanical steps of protein expression in response to signals, as opposed to our enzymes which are all expressed ahead of time and can continuously store information.”