Scientists develop amber-like polymer to preserve DNA at room temperature

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Inspired by the movie “Jurassic Park,” MIT researchers have created a new amber-like polymer that can store DNA at room temperature.

This innovative method could be a game-changer for preserving DNA without the need for freezing temperatures, which are expensive and not always feasible in many parts of the world.

Currently, most DNA storage methods require freezing temperatures, consuming a lot of energy and making it difficult to store DNA in many locations.

The new polymer developed by MIT researchers can store DNA at room temperature, protecting it from damage caused by heat or water.

The research team, led by James Banal and Jeremiah Johnson, developed a glassy polymer made from styrene and a cross-linker, creating a solid, amber-like material.

This material is hydrophobic, meaning it repels water, which helps protect the DNA.

To make the polymer degradable, they included special bonds that can be broken down with a molecule called cysteamine.

DNA is a stable molecule that can store vast amounts of information, including digital data like text and photos.

The researchers found a way to dissolve DNA in the polymer using a combination of three monomers.

These monomers help the DNA interact with the hydrophobic styrene, forming spherical complexes that are embedded in the polymer when it solidifies.

The process, named T-REX (Thermoset-REinforced Xeropreservation), takes a few hours. Once embedded, the DNA can be released by adding cysteamine and a detergent called SDS, which breaks down the polymer without damaging the DNA.

The researchers tested their method by storing DNA sequences, including the theme music from “Jurassic Park” and an entire human genome.

After storing and retrieving the DNA, they found no errors, proving the method’s reliability. The polymer also protected the DNA from temperatures up to 75 degrees Celsius (167 degrees Fahrenheit).

The team is working on improving the process and making it faster. A company called Cache DNA, started by Banal and Mark Bathe, aims to develop this DNA storage technology further. They see potential applications in personalized medicine, where genomes can be stored for future analysis as technology advances.

“The idea is to preserve the master record of life forever,” Banal says. “In the future, we could learn more about the genome and its relation to diseases as technology improves.”

This research, funded by the National Science Foundation, represents a significant step forward in DNA storage technology, offering a more accessible and energy-efficient way to preserve genetic information.

Source: MIT.