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Designer DNA

—replicating like rabbits!

by

Published: 31 August 2020 (GMT+10)
unsplash.comrubber-rabbits
Researchers replicated plastic rabbits containing DNA instructions to replicate more rabbits.

A team of six scientists has demonstrated how to store DNA instructions within any object to be manufactured so that it can be replicated using those instructions. The object they decided to encode was a plastic rabbit, which they then printed using a 3D printer. The researcher’s choice of information storage was DNA, because of its amazing information-carrying capacity and tiny size. Within the resin used to make the plastic rabbit,1 they placed microscopic glass beads containing DNA, encoded with instructions for the 3D printer to make another rabbit. The research was carried out to demonstrate the feasibility of using DNA as an information storage medium, and its ability to survive being copied many times using an industrial process.

For the replication of the rabbit, the researchers took a small piece of the bunny’s ear, and extracted the stored DNA instructions from the plastic. The DNA was read and decoded into instructions for the 3D printer to print another rabbit (replicating the replica). The resin filament used by the 3D printer was then infused with copied DNA instructions, which then became part of the new 3D-printed rabbit. This production cycle was repeated five times to demonstrate the fidelity of the copied DNA information and the feasibility of the method.2

Amazing DNA storage

Scientists recognize the incredibly dense information storage capacity of DNA. For instance, it has been calculated that one pinhead (2mm diameter) of DNA can store the information of a pile of books, reaching to the moon, 492.5 times! Or, imagine a pinhead of DNA stretched out into a filament, having the same diameter as a DNA molecule. How long would this filament be? When you do the maths, it works out as 1.33 × 106 km, which is equivalent to a distance of over 30 times around the earth’s equator!3 The DNA inside one human cell, if unravelled, would extend to two metres. Adults have approximately 12 trillion nucleated cells in their bodies, meaning the total length of DNA in those cells is equivalent to the distance from the earth to the sun—multiplied 160 times!4 This is why researchers are turning to DNA as their information storage medium of choice for futuristic computers, or powerful microscopic depositories of knowledge.

In 3-D printing these rabbits, the DNA was encoded by a special machine that is able to write into the DNA structure any information required (a computer based system called DNA Fountain).5 This might appear trivial to some people, but the proof of the concept being demonstrated by the researchers could mean that any object can carry its own instructions for its replication. Further applications could be to store electronic health records in medical implants, or conceal data in everyday objects (steganography). The researchers mused that their research may even facilitate the development of self-replicating machines—although this comes more from the realms of science fiction, rather than science fact!

3D-printed-rabbit
The design team took multiple steps to synthesize and encapsulate encoded DNA into a 3D printed rabbit. After Koch et al.

Designs require a designer

The researchers used a multi-step process using sophisticated machines (intelligently designed and engineered), requiring much planning and fore-thought to achieve their desired goals. A stereo-lithographic file (stl; printing instructions for 3D printer) was encoded with the geometry for printing the rabbit. This stl file was 45 kB in size (representing 45,000 characters of text code). The information was then programmed into DNA fragments using the DNA Fountain system and the resulting DNA went through several stages of processing to finally become sealed in microscopic glass beads. These were mixed into the resin that formed the 3D printer’s filament—the raw material for printing the desired shape—in this case, a rabbit.

Where did the information come from?

publicdomainpictures.netDeoxyribonucleic-acid
Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) is the densest information storage system ever discovered.

The information to print the 3D rabbit came from the programmers’ minds, the intelligent creators of the plastic model, and the ones whose ingenuity led to the accompanying research. By using a sophisticated machine in a lab (DNA Fountain), the researchers were able to manipulate the letters on the synthetic DNA fragment to encode the 3D printing instructions.

The researchers employed the existing code of DNA (Deoxyribonucleic acid) consisting of four ‘letters’ of specific chemicals: adenine [A], thymine [T], cytosine [C], and guanine [G]. In living cells, these letters are arranged so as to encode information on the DNA double helix. However, it is not the chemical letters themselves that hold the information, rather it is their arrangement, which is completely independent of their chemistry. The DNA letters A, T, C, and G were encoded by the researchers into binary, 1s and 0s, thus:

  • A = 00
  • C = 01
  • G = 10
  • T = 11

The resulting binary file became the instructions for the 3D printer to reproduce a model rabbit. The fundamental points to keep in mind, as already stated, are these: the information came from an intelligent source—the minds of the researchers—and the information was not dependent upon the DNA letters, rather their intelligent arrangement. The medium to store the information could have been anything the researchers chose, but it is the purposeful arrangement of that media that conveys the information. The researchers certainly did not use a random process like evolution to encode the information. Yet despite this fact they state:

“ … we created a 3D object that embeds DNA that encodes the blueprint for creating itself … This configuration is reminiscent of biological organisms, in which the instructions for making an object reside within the matter itself.”6

Design, information and intelligence

The underlying assumption for the existence of life is Darwinian evolution but, to date, this idea has not accounted for the information residing in living organisms. Furthermore, that information is independent of the chemistry of DNA. Without the information provided by the researchers, there would be no plastic rabbit, and without information in living DNA there would be no life. But, where did the information for living things come from? The only possible answer is from an intelligent programmer—God!

In another part of the experiment, the researchers proceeded to encode DNA fragments with a two-minute video (1.4 MB), which was implanted into a pair of 3D-printed reading spectacles. “The end result was a pair of ordinary-looking glasses with ordinary-transmittance lenses … that secretly stored a video message.”6

In the research paper, the first-person plural is used 86 times to describe the intelligent process the scientists followed to reach their end goal. For instance: “we devised”, “we applied”, “we synthesized”, “we stored”, “we selected”, “we processed”, and “we created”, etc. If so much intelligent forethought was required to encode the DNA with instructions to make a plastic rabbit, how much more intelligent forethought was required to encode the DNA with instructions for making a living rabbit—one that can also breed like a rabbit?

DNA fidelity

One of the research goals was to demonstrate how many times the DNA could be copied over and over to produce the plastic rabbits, without corruption of information. It turns out, quite a lot! The research states:

“ … even if we restrict the number of replications to five generations, it is theoretically possible to create at least … 8.44 × 1019 bunnies without resynthesizing the DNA library.”1

That theoretical number is more than the stars in many large galaxies! This is testimony to the stability of DNA as a storage medium, compared to human technology.7 It means it can be copied over and over many times, before the information in DNA begins to degrade. Furthermore, the intelligently designed machines which the researchers used to synthesize and replicate the DNA instructions, are themselves analogous to the cellular machinery essential to DNA replication in living organisms. Yet, the 3D printer itself pales into insignificance when compared to the amazing abilities of living organisms to metabolize their food, grow, heal, and multiply. The replication of DNA in living cells, is astonishing in its accuracy (typically 1.2 errors per hundred million base-pairs per generation). An array of machinery is on-hand, in the cell, ready to repair and check the copied DNA information. All of this is far beyond human technology.

Conclusion

The clever and intelligent research done by these scientists goes a long way to demonstrate that information and the machinery required to utilize it can only come about by intelligent means. If the scientists required so much engineering and programming ability to be able to produce a ‘reproducible’ plastic rabbit—how much more so the Lord of Creation, who designed and sustains His astonishing Creation for His own glory? “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created” (Revelation 4:11).

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References and notes

  1. Resin is a synthetic organic polymer (in liquid or solid form) which is used as the basis of plastics. Return to text.
  2. Liverpool, L., 3D-printed bunny contains DNA instructions to make a copy of itself, newscientist.com, 9 December 2019; accessed 4 June 2020. Return to text.
  3. Gitt, W., Dazzling design in miniature: DNA information storage, Creation 20(1):6, December 1997. Return to text.
  4. Leslie, J.G., In Brief—DNA mutation and design, Creation 6(4):18, 1984. Return to text.
  5. For interested readers see: Robertson, C.R., DNA Fountain Improves Data Storage, 22 April 2017, evolving-science.com; accessed 6 June 2020. Return to text.
  6. Koch, J. et al., A DNA-of-things storage architecture to create materials with embedded memory, Nature Biotechnology, doi.org/10.1038/s41587-019-0356-z, 9 December 2019. Return to text.
  7. However, this idea of DNA stability is often overblown as DNA is a fragile molecule, and requires all the cellular machinery of life to sustain it. Ideas of DNA surviving for 100,000s or even millions of years are unfounded, see: Sarfati, J., DNA: the best information storage system, 4 June 2015. Return to text.

Helpful Resources

By Design
by Dr Jonathan Sarfati
US $15.00
Soft Cover
Genetic Entropy
by Dr John Sanford
US $25.00
Soft Cover

Readers’ comments

Philippus S.
Ask them to make those rabbits alive, then they have proved something. My God Creator is a a God of life!
Rob E.
These plastic rabbits still need an intelligently designed 3D printer to produce a copy. I understand that the living cell contains the equivalent "machine" and the instructions on how to operate it within itself, and the life-force to actually operate it. What amazing design!
Ted I.
The Rabbits are not living entities are they? But they only look like Rabbits - so how would it be possibly to make live Rabbits?
Gavin Cox
The answer to that question is found in Genesis 1:24 "And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds—livestock and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.” And it was so." Only created life can bring forth life after its kind. The best that intelligent human designers can do is make a nonliving copy.
King T.
One very obvious thing is that in order to replicate a rabbit, someone or something needs the ability to decode the stored information. If I were handed a rabbit with that code as currently embedded I would have no clue that it was there and furthermore would not have any means with which to decode the code and hence reproduce the rabbit. I would also need the requisite tools and specified material with which to re-produce one of those rabbits. How long would it take for a decoder with the necessary knowledge and tools to arise spontaneously all by itself from just random materials? Even If I, as an intelligent agent, were to set about trying to re-create it I would first have to invent a powerful enough instrument just to get at the code itself!

The researchers have demonstrated clearly that the coded DNA requires an intelligent coder as well as an intelligent and powerfully capable decoder and constructor. Replication via DNA code clearly requires intelligence and a powerful outside agent, which of course godless people have to deny in order to feel comfortable within their belief system.
Stephen S.
Use of DNA as an archival medium is very actively being developed. The biggest problem is the inherent instability of the DNA molecule. That is why they need to ensconce the DNA within microscopic silica glass beads and store them at low temperatures to preserve it.

The published science behind these new methods will provide creation.com with ample mathematical proofs of the inability of dinosaur DNA to last anywhere near the assigned dates of the fossils.

The first Related Article above, 'DNA: the best information storage system', by Dr. Sarfati is a great start on this topic.

Steve
Richard P.
Great article, Gavin, with several very interesting points.

But just a couple of technical corrections:

You wrote, "The DNA inside one human cell, if unravelled, would extend to two metres. Adults have approximately 100 trillion cells in their bodies, meaning the total length of DNA in those cells is equivalent to the distance from the earth to the sun—multiplied 100 times!"

However:

(1) Recent estimates of the number of cells in an adult human are closer to 30 to 40 trillion. See [links deleted according to feedback rules. Editor adds, see: Bianconi, E. et al, An estimation of the number of cells in the human body, Annals of Human Biology 40(6):463-471, July 2013].

(2) The total length of DNA in an adult body cannot be obtained by simply multiplying "two metres" times our total number of cells (whatever you estimate that number to be). This is because most of our cells do not carry DNA! Mature red blood cells lack both nuclear and mitochondrial DNA. These cells mature at 7 days, losing their DNA in the process, and they have a life cycle of 100 to 120 days. Red blood cells are estimated to comprise 70 to 85% of all our cells. So the vast majority of our cells, for over 90% of their existence, don't have DNA. ...
Philip Bell
Gavin’s ‘100 trillion cells’ figure was a round figure and, of course, depends on the size of the person. For instance, a small adult of 45 kg will have fewer cells than a 130 kg adult human. But 35 trillion and 100 trillion are of the same order of magnitude. And, as some will understand, these figures actually omit many cells—chiefly the countless bacteria—that are an essential part of our gut flora and which outnumber our body cells. See Greshko, M., How many cells are in the human body—and how many microbes? nationalgeographic.com, 13 January 2016.

Thanks for the pick-up on the red blood cells (erythrocytes). As you say, many authorities would put circulating erythrocytes at ca. 70% of all human cells. The vast majority of other cells types are nucleated cells. Therefore, working on 30% of the upper estimate of 40 billion cells, gives us 12 trillion human cells with DNA. The article text has been revised accordingly.

Gilbert B.
Notice especially the many steps in providing information needed for mankind and Life Systems [ecology]. There must be much more than DNA: nuclear membrane (for Eucaryotic organisms), messenger-RNA, to transfer DNA information to the ribosomes, transfer-RNA to bring the needed amino acids to the ribosomes. The protein structure has order and shape. The entire system must be interrelated and functional from square one.
I thank God for His working in my life to study in college both inorganic chemistry and organic chemistry before my detailed study of Genetics. Every possible side reaction can take place chemically. Truly miraculous creation is the only way.
It is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves. God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness [Day 1 of creation] has shined in our hearts [when we trusted Christ as Savior]. Both physical life and spiritual life are miracles.
Dan M.
And there it is! The mountain the Evo's just can't climb no matter how much fantastic story spinning they stipulate. It's not only the DNA molecule itself but the mountain of information the whole DNA information storage system contains that is mind-bogglingly complex. Coded systems cannot produce themselves randomly from anything, period. And then there is the chiral, (handedness) nature of the molecular system that cannot be produced naturally. No random process anyone has ever observed has produced useful information or life for that matter. You have to stretch the imagination to the breaking point to accept the evolutionary story and I'm not capable of that amount of faith, (or denial) according to the observations. You want proof for the existence of a creator, well here you go. If this is not enough for you, then you're in total denial because God says He is evident by His creation, (Rom 1:20), and the more we learn about His science, the more you convict yourselves who don't believe. I always try to convey the fact that evolution is an alternate religion that tries to explain our origins, but is an unbelievable fairy tale according to logic. Most evolutionists deny this obvious fact and state, "It's not a religion, it's science". I don't think they understand the difference between the two? You can claim a sieve will hold water but unless you can demonstrate it, it is a false claim and therefore false.
Ray N.
Would putting the rabbits in the sun for a few days corrupt the information? Would printing the corrupted information produce a 3D print of a rhinoceros? Isn't that what evolution is all about? They also need to encode in the DNA how to produce the 3D printer and whatever equipment needed to convert the raw materials to produce the resin for the filament to be used by the 3D printer.

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