Researchers have 3D printed a polyester bunny, embedded with DNA strands that contain the blueprints for printing additional bunnies. Extracting this information, they were able to replicate the bunny several times, demonstrating the power of DNA for compact data storage.
Just like real rabbits, our rabbit also carries its own blueprint,” researcher Robert Grass stated in a press release.
For their study, a team of researchers from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology and the Ehrlich Lab, an Israeli DNA storage company, encoded the 45 kilobytes of code in the four DNA bases – adenine (A), cytosine (C), thymine (T) and guanine (G). The DNA sequence was then encased into microscopic spheres of plastic for protection before being incorporated into the plastic that was used to print the bunny.
In further tests, the team was able to extract the code and “reproduce” the bunny. By clipping a tiny piece of the 3D printed bunny and melting the plastic down, they were able to extract the DNA and use the information to 3D print a second toy. Overall, the research team managed to breed as much as five generations with a period up to nine months between printing and reprinting, to showcase that the stored information does not degenerate over time.
However, a little DNA is lost with every replication, so an infinite reproduction is not possible. Nevertheless, each replication consumes only 0.3% from each bunny and yields sufficient DNA material to create 29 offspring bunnies.
“With this method, we can integrate 3D-printing instructions into an object so that after decades or even centuries, it will be possible to obtain those instructions directly from the object itself,” explains Gross.
Further applications of the technology would be to hide data in objects, a technique experts refer to as steganography, or to facilitate the development of self-replicating machines.