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Scientists Turn Cells Into Recording Device

  • VOA News

FILE - The 46 human chromosomes, where DNA resides and does its work.

FILE - The 46 human chromosomes, where DNA resides and does its work.

The life of a living cell is not as dull as we may think, and now scientists say they have a tool for recording and playing back the cell’s 'memories' of recent experiences.

As reported by the online magazine Science, researchers at Boston University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology say they have managed to turn strands of molecules, known as DNA, inside a living cell, into a biological recording device. A signal - such as the presence of a chemical - alters the DNA, and even after the cell dies, scientists can find the mutation and determine the strength and duration of the signal.

Previously, scientists were able to make a cell’s DNA record a single event, by having exposure to a stimulus switch on or off production of a certain protein. But that revealed no additional information about the event, and the data was lost once the cell died.

The new method uses strands of DNA to allow scientists to embed and later retrieve information about a string of events, such as how the cell has grown and changed and what stimuli has it been exposed to.

Scientists hope they will eventually be able to use living cells as specific sensors capable of collecting and storing data about changes within their immediate environment.