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Object Engineered to Carry a DNA Code for its Own Replication

A 3-D printed rabbit is made from a blueprint stored in DNA, which itself is stored in a printed rabbit.

Dec 9, 2019
Kerry Grens

ABOVE: The 3-D printed rabbit
ETH ZURISH / JULIAN KOCH

Scientists have composed DNA to carry the instructions for 3-D printing a plastic rabbit. It’s an impressive feat on its own, but they have taken the idea of DNA storage a step further by embedding silica beads with that genetic blueprint into the bunny. The researchers then recreated five generations of the rabbit by using a sample of DNA from each iteration to print a new rabbit with high fidelity.

“The creativity of this embryonic field [of using synthetic DNA to store information] just keeps getting better,” George Church of Harvard University who was not involved in the work tells New Scientist

Geneticist Yaniv Erlich, who is now the chief scientific officer of MyHeritage, and the lab of Robert Grass, a chemical engineer at ETH Zurich, teamed up to develop the bunny. The printing instructions are stored in 45 kb of DNA, which is packaged into beads a nanometer in diameter. The beads were then added to the 3-D printing material so the object would carry the instructions for its own creation.

They repeated the exercise on a larger scale, coding a movie into DNA and embedding the genetic storage into plexiglass. Taking a snippet of the plexiglass and sequencing the DNA allowed them to recreate the video.

See “Making DNA Data Storage a Reality”

“Embedding information directly into materials would actually be a really useful thing to do,” Microsoft senior scientist Karin Strauss, who was not part of the study, tells Wired

For instance, in their paper, published in Nature Biotechnology today (December 9), the authors suggest using the approach to store electronic health records in implants, produce self-replicating machines, or hide data. “The object will look just like an ordinary object, so it’s a very effective way of hiding information,” Erlich tells Wired.

Kerry Grens is a senior editor and the news director of The Scientist. Email her at kgrens@the-scientist.com.

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