The project explores the versatility of DNA as a programmable biological polymer that can be hijacked to encode information of our choosing, and living cells as a means to capture and store that encoded information over time. The author encoded pixel values of digitized frames of Muybridge’s Annie G. Galloping, using the order of nucleotides in synthesized strands of DNA. He then delivered those strands to living bacteria using a pulse of electricity, where components of a bacterial immune system would capture the synthetic DNA, and add it to the cell’s genome. These bacterial components are proteins called integrases, and these particular integrases have evolved a unique trait where they always add the foreign DNA to a particular spot in the genome; they can add multiple different sequences to that same spot over time, and, when they add multiple sequences, those sequences are added in a logical order according to time. The author exploited those properties to deliver five frames of Muybridge’s series, over five days, to the same population of bacteria. These bacteria logged the information, duplicated it when they divided, and passed it on to their progeny. I reconstructed the frames and order by sequencing the genomes of the bacteria many generations later.
This project demonstrates that there is unused capacity in the genomes of living cells to capture and store information that has no relevance to the biological functioning of the cell.