Jurassic Park-style storage of DNA in amber-like polymer

In a blockbuster film Jurassic Park, scientists bring dinosaurs back to life by extracting DNA preserved in amber for millions of years. Inspired by such natural preservation, researchers have developed glassy polymers that store DNA at room temperature and dissolve when needed to release molecules (J. Yes. Chem. Soc. 2024, DOI: 10.1021/jacs.4c01925). The method, called thermoset-reinforced xeropreservation (T-REX), is a step toward low-cost data storage in DNA.

Computer memory devices process information as strings of zeros and ones. That binary data can be encoded in the same four nucleotides—A, G, C, and D—that encode genetic information in DNA molecules. Scientists have proposed DNA as a data storage medium because it is dense: a A coffee mug full of DNA It can store all the data in the world.

But DNA degrades in days at room temperature, so today it is stored at cryogenic temperatures, which requires energy and special equipment. „If I want to send DNA to Mars or collect samples in rural Africa, it’s not going to work,” he says. James BanalCo-Founder Cache DNA, which creates a new biomolecule storage technology. For room-temperature storage, he and others have previously attached DNA to silica particles and calcium phosphate crystals. This process takes days because the water-loving DNA must be dissolved in organic solvents using surfactants, which are then removed by drying.

So he’s a Massachusetts Institute of Technology chemist Jeremiah A. Johnson, and colleagues developed a way to entrap DNA in hours using a rigid polystyrene-based thermoset polymer. Thermosets, with their cross-linked polymer networks, are tough and resistant to chemicals. The researchers added small thionolactone segments to the network, which could be cleaved with a cysteamine reagent.

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The team developed special polycationic molecules with water-loving side and oil-water-repelling side. Charges on the molecule bound to DNA rapidly transfer it from water to solvents containing styrene monomers. Heating the solution formed a glassy polymer block containing the DNA. It preserved DNA 10 times longer than silica particles. Adding cystamine degraded the polymer so the researchers could separate the DNA.

„This work could enable more widespread use of DNA data storage because the splicing and extraction steps are simplified,” he says. Robert Cross, a chemist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH), Zurich, was not involved in the present work. A more in-depth analysis of the stability of the DNA sequences will be needed to assess how the method stacks up against current cryogenic techniques, he adds.

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