PerspectiveSynthetic Biology

On the record with E. coli DNA

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Science  29 Jul 2016:
Vol. 353, Issue 6298, pp. 444-445
DOI: 10.1126/science.aah4438

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Synthetic biology uses DNA programs to add new functions into living cells. By expressing transcription factors, microbes such as Escherichia coli can be made to perform complex computational logic (1) and pass “memories” of selected events between generations (2). But DNA is more than just the source code for protein expression programs; DNA can be used as the storage medium for information. In synthetic biology, the use of DNA for in vivo information storage was first realized in 2009 with a synthetic genetic program that enabled E. coli to count events by using a recombinase to rearrange DNA in response to an input (3). With multiple recombinases, this technology could be used to store 1.375 bytes of information in a living E. coli (4). As reported by Shipman et al. (5) on page 463 of this issue, and by Roquet et al. (6), in vivo encoding of information into DNA is pushed even further, using either genome editing to store dozens of bytes of data, or employing multiple recombinases to realize “state machines” inside living cells.