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Researchers use CRISPR to create the world’s tiniest tape recorder

Researchers use CRISPR to create the world’s tiniest tape recorder
[Illustration: courtesy of Columbia Medicine]

Normally, when you hear the words “e. coli,” you think about that one time you went a little too hard at the all-you-can-eat buffet and walked away with a very unfortunate souvenir. But here’s a use for the bacteria we bet you’ve never considered: Scientists at Columbia University Medical Center have created the world’s smallest tape recorder out of e.coli.

Researchers turned Escherichia coli into little recording devices that can not only record their interactions with the environment but time-stamp the events, too, according to a Columbia University press release. The state-of-the-art recording device is from modified pieces of DNA called plasmids. One plasmid was turned into an audio tape of sorts that would create more copies of itself in response to an external signal, which also activated a separate recording plasmid that would insert itself into the process (like a nosy aunt) and serve as a time stamp to the process.

The results were published recently in Science, and the breakthrough comes courtesy of CRISPR–the gene-splicing Nobel Prize bridesmaid. Per the research, the CRISPR-Cas adaptation system naturally copies snippets of DNA of invading viruses so that the immune system can respond more effectively to future invaders. In a statement, researcher Harris Wang, said the “CRISPR-Cas system is a natural biological memory device.”

The technology is still being developed, so for now, CRISPR recordings probably won’t disrupt the recent resurgence of the cassette tape.

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