What do you do if you have a large document or a high-resolution image that is too big to send via email? You simply zip it to a more manageable size using a suitable software. “Instead of sending the information ‘white-white-white-white-white-…’ for every single pixel on a white line, only the message ‘white 1,000 times’ is transmitted,” explains Kobi Benenson, Head of the Synthetic Biology Group at ETH’s Department of Biosystems Science and Engineering in Basel. Once received, the information can then be returned to its original size, i.e. unzipped.

This method for digital files inspired Benenson and his colleague Nicolas Lapique to develop an innovative solution for biological systems. They worked out a method that could be used to zip the genetic material DNA: it is compressed for transport into cells and then assembled into functioning genetic information once inside the cell (Nature Nanotechnology, “Genetic programs can be compressed and autonomously decompressed in live cells”).

This type of solution could be useful for biologists, particularly for synthetic biology or biotechnology, as the scientists are limited when trying to implant large amounts of information into cells in the form of DNA. The problem is that the transport vehicles that are currently used for this purpose can only be loaded with a limited amount of DNA….

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