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A new DNA-based recorder allows bioengineers to create cell cultures that detect information in their environment and store it for later use. Such 'designer' cells might in the future be used to monitor water quality in a village, or measure the amount of sugar a person eats. The technique is described this week in Science1.

In synthetic biology, genes are engineered to regulate each other's expression in such a way that they can perform logic operations similar to those in computer circuits. Memory storage has long been considered one of the key components needed to fulfil the promise of this technology.

“Building gene circuits requires not only computation and logic, but a way to store that information,” says bioengineer Timothy Lu of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. “DNA provides a very stable form of memory and will allow us to do more complex computing tasks.”

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