Saturday, May 17, 2014

OBJECT OF INTEREST: THE TWICE-FORBIDDEN FRUIT

Source: The New Yorker

Joe Davis, the artist in residence at George Church’s genetics lab, at Harvard Medical School, ... plans to use synthetic biology to insert a DNA-encoded version of Wikipedia into the apple and create a living, literal tree of knowledge.
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The first step, translating English words into the letters of DNA, is easy, as long as one maintains a code. By analogy, Morse code does a similar thing with only two symbols, a dot and a dash. “Malus ecclesia” can, for example, be compressed using common English letter pairings and written in DNA as agtgtagcccaatcgcagaccctcaa.
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To get the DNA into the apple, Davis will use a type of bacteria uniquely evolved to insert its genome through plant cell walls. ... Because the changes to the fruit are biologically inert, the final apples will look like normal apples hanging from normal apple trees. Wikipedia will not fit into a single apple, bits and pieces of it will instead be spread across many apples and many trees.
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“To some extent, if [our data] is out there in the wild, it increases the possibility that it will survive through any kind of disaster,” said George Church, a longtime collaborator of Davis’ and the head of a Harvard research lab studying DNA data storage.

“The advantage of DNA is that it has a record of longevity,” Church told me in an interview.  “You could store it, left in optimal conditions, for seven hundred thousand years. There’s no disk drive that has anything close to that record.”

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