Engineers from MIT have programmed human and bacterial cells to keep a record of complex molecular events.
There is plenty of research going on in the field of medical science particularly in decoding the language of cells. The recent one is DNA writing technology which enables to capture and record a limited number of molecular events in the body. According to scientists, it is essential to process and store information in living cells. There is numerous current method to achieve the target but limits in recording capacity.
To overcome this drawbacks researchers from MIT have developed a technology which is similar to a hard drive called as DNA-based Ordered Memory and Iteration Network Operator (DOMINO) which is considered to be “highly efficient and robust molecular recording and DNA memory platform”. With the help of this technology, genomic DNA ( the heredity molecule) is analysed to record molecular events.
What does DOMINO do?
What happens to cells throughout its life cycle is still a mystery. But this new technology, named as DOMINO, can be used to record minute details about the intensity, duration, sequence, and timing of many events in the life of a cell, such as exposures to certain chemicals. The research is published in the journal Molecular Cell, researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have described the development of a new technology namely DOMINO that uses DNA to process and store information in living cells.
A more targeted approach is described by Timothy Lu, the senior author of the study, an MIT associate professor of electrical engineering, computer science and of biological engineering, and Farzadfard a Schmidt Science Postdoctoral Fellow at MIT and the lead author of the paper.
How does DOMINO work?
The new DOMINO system uses a variant of the CRISPR-Cas9 enzyme because of its ability that makes more well-defined mutations. CRISPR-Cas9 is a gene-editing tool which directly modifies and stores bits of information in DNA bases instead of cutting DNA and waiting for cells to repair the damage. The researchers also showed that they could bring this system to work accurately in both human and bacterial cells.
DOMINO is a modular system consisting of numerous operator units, which are each made up of a base editor, a guide RNA that binds to genome sequences and links the base editor to that particular sequence. Instead of cutting the DNA at specific locations like existing genome-editing CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) tools, DOMINO can overwrite DNA in particular locations in a base-editing approach.
This system triggers sequences of DNA writing events in which a DNA mutation will trigger another in response to biological signals. Known as “designer” or “engineered” cells, the cells can offer extremely detailed insight into the activity of cells and the fundamental activities in biology.
Application of DOMINO
The applications of DOMINO technology are broad. According to researchers, this technology could find use in biotechnology and biomedicine to study cancer and in the development of living biosensors and adaptive therapeutics.
Here the cell’s DNA is converted into readable information which can be stored by computers for further study. Once the order and timing of cellular events are recorded, scientists will be able to track activity in cells that contribute to diseases like cancer. Mostly offering insight on how and why healthy cells become cancerous in this instance. The technology is believed to record and control molecular events in its natural environment.
“This platform gives us a way to encode memory and logic operations in cells in a scalable fashion. Similar to silicon-based computers, in order to create complex forms of logic and computation, we need to have access to vast amounts of memory.”
“We need better strategies to unravel how complex biology works, especially in diseases like cancer where multiple biological events can occur to transform normal cells into diseased ones. With this method, we are using DNA as a memory tape to permanently record biological events that are occurring in disease. This technology can give us deeper insights into what signals go up and down over time to drive disease development.”
DOMINO success until now
The development stages of mammals with concerning time have been tracked and in future, it is hoped to track neural activity in the brain. The neural activity will be recorded enabled with programmed that will interrogate the development of tumours and discover the trauma that caused them to evolve.
Scientists are also planning to combine multiple DNA reading and writing events to build logics such as ‘AND’ and ‘OR’ operations, which will eventually create more complex memory and computing operations in living cells.
Point of view
Our biological systems store plenty of information in DNA. And if the DNA can be read and write accurately then the cells will be on record which will eventually provide us with more details.
According to Lu “It is part of a longer-term path to take advantage of the natural memory and computing capabilities in cells. These designer cells can constantly assess their environment and record information that can be read at a later time.”
Lu and Farzadfard have been able to record events in a matter of hours, but hope to be able to carry out recordings in an even shorter time. They plan to expand the capabilities of DOMINO to be able to investigate more complex biological events.