Researchers at Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) have converted 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.
According to the German news agency (dpa), the researchers 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.
Harris Wang, assistant professor in the Department of Pathology and Cell Biology and Systems Biology at CUMC said that 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.
Wang said this system is a natural biological memory device, reported phys.org website.
From an engineering perspective that is actually quite nice, because it is already a system that has been honed through evolution to be really great at storing information, he added.
To build their microscopic recorder, the research team modified a piece of DNA called a plasmid, giving it the ability to create more copies of itself in the bacterial cell in response to an external signal.