As previously reported on Scope, Stanford researchers have developed a method for storing, erasing and coding digital data in the DNA of living cells. In a recent Los Angeles Times Q&A, Stanford bioengineering professor Drew Endy, PhD, discusses how the data storage system works, potential applications of the method and researchers' next steps.
On the topic of potential end uses for the technology, Endy says:
My dreams for synthetic biology would include using tools we build to reinvent manufacturing, so that everything now sourced from fossil fuels could be manufactured on a sustainable basis. We could have a much richer partnership with nature. That's quite a big task.
People could use DNA data storage to control processes in sewage treatment plants. If there's a storm and a whole bunch of weird, oil-based runoff from the streets comes into the sewage treatment plant, the system could adapt automatically to better process those oils. You could use biobits in medicine, too. For example, if you wanted to target a tumor inside the body, you might need an engineered immune cell to replicate within the patient — but you wouldn't want it to replicate too many times, otherwise you'd trigger an autoimmune response.