It holds the key to the future of bio-technology and computing
There are enough studies and research to tell you that your genes are to be blamed for you not being agile or athletic. While there has been much research on blaming the DNA, scientists are still trying to figure out the core of the molecular structure and the information it holds. DNA—deoxy-ribonucleic acid—is a molecule found in all living organisms and carries most of the genetic instructions used in the growth, development, functioning and reproduction. For all that we have been blaming our genes for, there is little that we understand about them but scientific research over the past decade is now allowing us to unlock the mystery of DNA to the point that we may be able to recreate DNA with all its properties in the coming decades. But this scientific unlocking will not only help the bio-medical field, it is also expected to enhance the power of computing as many top technology companies have now started experimenting with nano-tech .
Scientists at the Sheffield University in the UK earlier this year unlocked the code to DNA as to how it repairs itself. While people have been working on DNA coding for long and they have been able to create artificial DNA, what has eluded them is the science behind regenerative capacity of DNA. The study discovered how some proteins recognise damaged bases within DNA which, if untreated, could lead to cancer. Scientists believe that this method of recognition might be used by other DNA repair proteins. The research is not only expected to further our understanding of cancers and cell mutation but also on how to treat cancers of certain kinds.
Although DNA is helping us detect new techniques, researchers are working on new methods to augment DNA. The latest research in this field comes from MIT where researchers have discovered a way to automate the DNA making process. While DNA Origami—programming DNA to create different structures has been in existence for long, automation of the process using an algorithm called DAEDALUS (DNA Origami Sequence Design Algorithm for User-defined Structures) will help build nano-particles of various shapes. The process which was done entirely by hand can now help create vaccines, carriers for gene editing and storage devices from DNA.
The most important aspect and probably the most feared is the prospect of gene editing. While creating artificial strands of DNA for computing or understanding are one thing, research is now paving way for us to make customised genes. Though one aspect of it relates to treatment of diseases like scientists have found cure for herpes from the process, the other lies in creation of designer babies. Though there are some studies that point out that the process is not even close to creating superbabies but with research on the subject just beginning there might be a way to augment certain aspects if not all.
It’s not only augmentation of human genome that DNA editing can help with, artificial DNA is also allowing companies to create storage devices and nano-tech. Earlier this year scientist created the world’s smallest diode from DNA, while Microsoft bought strands of DNA from a US-based company. Twist Bioscience. DNA may be the key for future data storage as well. With people consuming more data by the second and the world entering into a zettabyte era, DNA may be the answer to storage woes as technology can help store terabytes of data in strands and preserve it for thousands of years. Also with the cost of DNA storage coming down, the technology can certainly be effective in coming years.
While technology and automation is bringing the cost of DNA editing down, the only hurdle in the path of its application becoming widespread is acceptability. While the computing aspect may see more research, nations are fretting at the prospect of genome editing or creation of designer babies. What remains to be seen is the DNA of the ethics versus science debate. While future generations may be able to augment their genes, all we can do is to blame ours.