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Published on : Nov 24, 2017

The immune system of a bacterium has been hacked by researchers to employ it as a parallel of a molecular tape recorder. The technology has been anticipated to make way for living monitoring devices that could be used to analyze pollutants in ecosystems and also be engaged in health screens. It works by reacting to chemical changes in the environment and time-stamping them in DNA.

Columbia University Medical Center’s scientists have taken advantage of the natural ability of CRISPR-Cas, the gene editing system in the bacterium Escherichia coli (E. coli), to recall the genetic information of viruses. Harris Wang, biophysicist and senior author of the study, has called the system as a natural biological memory device.

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E. coli accommodates genetic sequences libraries which help the bacterium to determine invasive viruses. It makes copies of these libraries and places them onto RNA sections which help the Cas enzyme to rapidly determine viral genomes and tear them apart before they could cause any damage. This has made the system to be recognized as a molecular scalpel with some incredible uses. However, the researchers have been more attracted to the library lately. They had used plasmids as messages in the data library. The plasmids had been stitched in a sequence, more or less similar to a tape recorder, so that the CRISPR-Cas spacer acquisition machinery responds as it was being tweaked.

The machinery continued to build the sequence in the absence of plasmids with the help of a reference spacer – similar to an equivalent of dead air – using another type of plasmid. The plasmids mix provided a timestamp for the changes that occurred in the surroundings. The researchers have named their technology TRACE or temporal recording in arrays by CRISPR expansion.