GIF is the unspoken king of social media, more popular than even the omnipresent emoji and hashtags. But could this strand of photos become equally important in the world of science? We will find that out just now!
Researchers from the Harvard Medical School have used GIFs to figure out a new way to store and retrieve information from bacterial DNA using an incredibly precise and relatively cheap gene sequencing tool. Consequently, this proposition can open a lot of secrets about early human development.
GIFs were used to encode Eadweard Muybridge’s 19th Century animation of a running horse, which is considered to be the world’s first GIF, inside the bacterial DNA. Putting the animation was a feat in itself, but it is even more impressive since they managed to sequence the bacteria’s genome and recreated the running horse visual.
This implies that DNA can capture and replay events in the order they occurred, which has huge possibilities for medical science. The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health and has been published this week in the journal Nature.
“The point is not to store videos in bacteria,” said Harvard Medical School neuroscientist Seth Shipman, in a video interview.
“We used the video because it’s a good example of a complex piece of information that has both many parts to it (that is, many pixel values) and a time component that was organized over time. So, it was a good way for us to test if the CRISPR adaptation system that we’re using could actually acquire enough information that we could go in and sequence the bacteria after we had encoded it and reconstruct the movie.”
Currently, scientists can only up to a limited extent into the human body and its systems’ development, with many things remaining a secret. For example, no one has cracked the code of neuron development born un-specialized in young brains and then develop into highly-specified neurons.
But if a cell is given access to the brain that records the development from day one, the researchers can extract this using CRISPR genome sequencing and play back the entire evolution of the neuron.
“captures the timing information of different molecular events,” he said.
The integration of the CRISPR system presents great prospects of accurate storage and retrieval of biological systems.
“This recent result is pretty exciting in that it used genomics DNA editing techniques to ‘log’ data and store it in a cell’s genome,” said Luis Ceze, an associate professor of computer science and engineering at the University of Washington who worked on the OK Go DNA Storage project. “This can enable cell-based ‘living sensors’ that log information.”
Watch the video below to learn more about the phenomenon.