Scientists at Columbia University Medical Center made some molecular hacks to convert gut bacteria into the world’s tiniest data recorder.
The team modified a specific strain of E. coli, a kind of bacteria that naturally occurs in the intestines, to allow the organisms to record their interactions in their environment, and tell the specific dates and times such interactions occur, Tech Times reports.
Harris Wang and his colleagues used the CRISPR-Cas gene-editing system to create what they describe as a biological tape recorder.
CRISPR-Cas functions as the database of the body, documenting all past pathogen attacks. It then copies the DNA of invading viruses so that any new bacteria can more effectively fight pathogens.
The CRISPR locus of the bacterial genome gathers and stores chronological records of the bacterial viruses that have survived, along with its ancestors. It then becomes more efficient at recognizing and cutting down the same viruses, should they try to attack again.
The CRISPR-Cas system is a natural biological memory device. From an engineering perspective that’s actually quite nice, because it’s already a system that has been honed through evolution to be really great at storing information.
According to the researchers, when this hacked bacteria is swallowed by a patient, they can then record any changes that take place in the digestive tract, and document any and all unprecedented views of things that have been previously inaccessible. The modified bacteria may likewise monitor changes in the surrounding areas without any disruptions.
There has been a growing body of evidence linking gut bacteria with several body conditions. In 2016, research showed an association between gut bacteria and Parkinson’s disease. Gut bacteria has also been linked to other conditions such as chronic fatigue and multiple sclerosis.
Since there are so many possible connections between gut bacteria and diseases, these new tools and methods can analyze the complexity of the stomach and intestines in order to provide invaluable data for medical purposes.