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Write Team

The Write Team develops tools for time-resolved, permanent recording of cellular events into genomic DNA

The Seattle Hub for Synthetic Biology is a collaboration between Allen Institute, Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and the University of Washington.

Goals and Approach

Scientist Emily holding up a vial

The Write Team at Seattle Hub for Synthetic Biology develops CRISPR-based tools that record cellular events into the DNA of the cell. Such records can include information on cellular lineages, internal events and decisions, external signals or stressors, phenotypic changes, and, in theory, any biological signal. Importantly, this information is recorded sequentially. This creates a relative timeline of each event as it happens, acting like a cellular smart watch that can later report back on the health, actions, and experiences of the cell.

To accomplish this, the Write Team uses DNA Typewriter. A synthetic DNA sequence, called Tape, is installed into the genomic DNA of cells. The first segment of Tape is cut using a CRISPR-Cas9 nickase. A short DNA sequence, known as a molecular barcode, is then inserted into the cut site. The barcodes function similar to the Morse Code, where each unique barcode translates to a specific cellular event. Thus, the insertion of the barcode into the DNA creates a record of a specific event.

Once the first segment of Tape has a barcode inserted, the second segment opens for modification. This enables an orderly, sequential insertion of barcodes. Later, scientists can read the barcoded record in the Tape to find out what events took place in the cell and the order in which they occurred.

DNA Typewriter technology will reveal the events of cellular biology with an unprecedented resolution. Prior approaches mainly relied on collecting discontinuous information at multiple time points to infer the history of cellular events. DNA Typewriter is beginning to enable scientists to obtain continuous records of past cellular events by decoding information written in the Tapes, just like information collected on your smart watch.

Research Details

  • The first major aim of the Seattle Hub for Synthetic Biology is to create a mouse capable of recording the lineage of its own cells using DNA Typewriter technology
  • The Write Team is currently working to develop DNA Tape that is compatible with this application and capable of recording an extensive cell lineage: from a single cell zygote to a fully grown mouse
  • The Write Team is working towards increasing the editing efficiency, speed, and accuracy of the DNA Typewriter system
  • The Write Team aims to expand the recording capacity of DNA Tape. We envision eventually recording without any limit in the recording length

Science Programs at Allen Institute