Programming DNA

In the world of my book Tankborn, Genetically Engineered Non-humans (GENs) are controlled via electronics installed in their nervous system and brain. I read an article this week which describes an intriguing study whose results I might just have to steal for a future book. The researchers have actually managed to program DNA itself.

Stanford post-doc Jerome Bonnet worked with graduate student Pakpoom Subsoontorn and assistant professor Drew Endy to induce the DNA in microbes to switch direction so that they would glow a different color under an ultraviolet light. After three years of work getting the correct balance of enzymes which control the orientation of the DNA, they were able to create the equivalent of a bio data storage unit. They call the device used a “recombinase addressable data” module, or RAD. They’re only able to store one bit of “data,” but have plans to expand their research to an entire byte.

While the scientists engaged in this study expect that this data storage ability would be used for worthy efforts such as studying cancer, my writer’s mind can’t seem to help going in an entirely different direction. If we could store data in DNA, couldn’t we pass ultra-secret messages that way? Or maybe it’s not just data, but actual programming in the brain that affects behavior. Maybe in a future world, it could heal a mental illness or something could go awry and the treatment would create someone with extraordinary mental powers.

Okay, I’m letting my imagination get the best of me. These are all fictional scenarios. The actual science will take years to reach fruition. And in the real world, it will likely provide benefits, like to signal that cells are splitting too rapidly. Catch that early and we can prevent cancer.

Still, it’s fun to take this intriguing study and run with it as an author. After all, who doesn’t want mental superpowers?

About karensandler

Lover of chocolate. A couple felines short of full-fledged Cat Lady. Author of the YA Tankborn Trilogy (TANKBORN, AWAKENING, and REBELLION), from Tu Books. Founding team member of We Need Diverse Books. Opinions expressed here are my own.
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