CRISPR Biological Tape: Recording Cellular Events Over Time

Synthetic biologists have previously used CRISPR to store poems, books, and images in DNA, but now researchers for the first time used CRISPR to record cellular activity and the timing of those events.

Researchers from Columbia University Medical Center published a paper in Science”Multiplex recording of cellular events over time on CRISPR biological tape”. This paper describes a method to convert a natural bacterial immune system into a microscopic data recorder, laying the groundwork for a new class of technologies that use bacterial cells for everything from disease diagnosis to environmental monitoring.

They modified an ordinary laboratory strain of the ubiquitous human gut microbe Escherichia coli, enabling the bacteria to not only record their interactions with the environment but also time-stamp the events.

“Such bacteria, swallowed by a patient, might be able to record the changes they experience through the whole digestive tract, yielding an unprecedented view of previously inaccessible phenomena,” says Harris Wang, senior author of the paper. Other applications could include environmental sensing and basic studies in ecology and microbiology, where bacteria could monitor otherwise invisible changes without disrupting their surroundings.

Wang and members of his laboratory created the microscopic data recorder by taking advantage of CRISPR-Cas, an immune system in many species of bacteria. CRISPR-Cas copies snippets of DNA from invading viruses so that subsequent generations of bacteria can repel these pathogens more effectively. As a result, the CRISPR locus of the bacterial genome accumulates a chronological record of the bacterial viruses that it and its ancestors have survived. When those same viruses try to infect again, the CRISPR-Cas system can recognize and eliminate them.

The current paper proves the system can handle at least three simultaneous signals and record for days.

“Now we’re planning to look at various markers that might be altered under changes in natural or disease states, in the gastrointestinal system or elsewhere,” says Dr. Wang.

Reference:
Sheth RU, Yim SS, Wu FL, Wang HH. Multiplex recording of cellular events over time on CRISPR biological tape. Science. 2017 Nov 23. pii: eaao0958. doi: 10.1126/science.aao0958. [Epub ahead of print]
PMID: 29170279

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