Researchers from Columbia University Medical Centre (CUMC) in US have converted natural bacterial immune system into the world’s smallest data recorder.
The researchers modified an ordinary laboratory strain of ubiquitous human gut microbe (bacteria) Escherichia coli (E Coli) which enabled it to record their interactions with environment and also time-stamp events.
The microscopic data recorder was created 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. To build this microscopic recorder, researchers had modified piece of DNA called plasmid, giving it ability to create more copies of itself in the bacterial cell in response to an external signal.
This research lays groundwork for new class of technologies that use bacterial cells for everything from disease diagnosis to environmental monitoring. It may help to record biological changes taking placing in digestive tract which can yield an unprecedented view of previously inaccessible phenomena. It can be also used in environmental sensing and basic studies in ecology and microbiology, where bacteria could monitor otherwise invisible changes without disrupting their surroundings.