Scientists install ‘memories’ in DNA of human cells
The advancement was made by biological engineers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), using the genome-editing system CRISPR. The system consists of a DNA-cutting enzyme called Cas9 and a short RNA strand. The strand guides the enzyme to a specific area of the genome, directing Cas9 where to make its cut.
Although CRISPR is well known for its gene editing capabilities, the MIT team managed to use it for memory storage – the first that can record the duration and intensity of events in human cells. Such memories include events such as inflammation.
To encode the memories, the scientists designed guide strands that recognize the DNA that encodes the very same guide strand. It’s a concept they refer to as “self-targeting guide RNA.”
“Led by this self-targeting guide RNA strand, Cas9 cuts the DNA encoding the guide strand, generating a mutation that becomes a permanent record of the event. That DNA sequence, once mutated, generates a new guide RNA strand that directs Cas9 to the newly mutated DNA, allowing further mutations to accumulate as long as Cas9 is active or the self-targeting guide RNA is expressed,” MIT wrote in a statement.