This is Part 2 in a story based off the potential of using DNA to store information. This story explores hiding DNA using methylation to make DNA sequences more or less easily transcribed, read more from Science. Thanks go out to Reddit user, u/RealTrain for inspiring this piece. Check out Part 1.
By: Winston Myers and Chris Weihert
The clock seemed to tick for hours, though only minutes had passed. Ferris didn’t want to rush the DNA polymerization and risk ruining the sample. He needed to know what all that extra DNA meant, and that required patience.
Ring! Brrrring! The sample finished duplicating. The chime reminded him of his hunger pangs. The cardio-epigentesis procedure required an empty stomach, a fact his body hadn’t forgotten. Earlier, Ferris replicated the operation on himself, due to the ineptitude of his personal robotic assistant, M1K. He had to know what The Man in the Gray Suit was after.
“M1K, find a recipe on TASTYCLICK.com, watch the video, then cook it, please.” The last time Ferris asked the robot to make a meal, M1K accessed a French channel and went ‘foraging’ in the bathroom. This resulted in a delicately poached can of deodorant with a crème de la toothpaste reduction.
“How’s it coming?” he asked M1K, who was attempting to tie a shoe with a mixing spoon. Meanwhile, Ferris kept looking for the 21st dataDNA tube. He could find the others, but failed to remember where he’d left the newest one. It seemed starvation was affecting his memory. With frustration quivering in his voice, “Just order something! Don’t you have an update pending, M1K?!”
As the robot continued to thread a shoe with the spoon, a beep indicated the Proteosynthesizer 9000 had finished making a protein from the 1st video’s glitchy segment, named glitch-1. “Before us is the key,” his parents echoed.
The first of their dataDNA tubes was always Ferris’s favorite. As a youth, their last words sounded right out of a movie. Yet, as he held his heart’s DNA in one hand and the glitch-1 protein in the other, he realized these were simply directions, smoke signals that just might lead to answers.
A haze blanketed the room as Ferris’s vision faded. He tried to speak, but words failed him. He hit the ground, unconscious. M1K sprinted into the room with red, flashing lights and a siren blaring: “Fire! There is a fire! WHOOOOOP! Fire! There is a fire! WHOOOOOOOOOP!”
M1K noticed Ferris splayed out on the floor and began to process the situation, while automated extinguishers dealt with the kitchen fire. The robot bent over his owner and announced, “Mama bird program activated,” while expunging a nutrient soup into Ferris’s mouth. Ferris, still unconscious, choked on the thick liquid.
Reevaluating the situation, M1K inserted a vacuum tube to remove the obstruction from Ferris’s lungs, instead pumping it into his stomach. After a while, the robot joyously beeped as Ferris awoke.
With the tube still in his mouth, he grunted, “Thank you M1K, but kindly get this thing out of me!”. It blooped in acknowledgment while withdrawing the feeding tube, only to promptly bend over Ferris and vomit more nutrient soup into his mouth. “No! Stop it! Get off me you useless pile of bytes!”
As he washed himself off in the sink, Ferris grinned. Hunger and fatigue had gotten the better of him minutes before, but now was his time. As he mixed the samples, he wondered: what could all the DNA in my cells mean? Why 11x the normal amount?
Ferris inserted the glitch-1 tube and dataDNA into his dataDNA player, while unchecking the ‘Standard Transcription Factors’ option; so the only transcription factors that could allow the DNA to play would come from the glitchy video segment. “Before us is the key… The answer, or at least the beginning, lies in your heart.”
Ferris wondered how his parents had kept this secret from him. He measured the level of methylation, or raveling up of DNA that impacts transcription. The sample of his heart left unexposed to the glitch-1 protein was significantly more methylated at several transcription sites. This was how his parents had hidden their DNA secret for so long. The dataDNA had been invisible to The Man in the Gray Suit. Because he didn’t have the glitch-1 protein to unravel those places for RNA transcriptase to latch on, The Man in Gray couldn’t find the hidden messages.
Suddenly the screen flashed as the dataDNA player displayed hundreds of volumes of what seemed to be religious texts, some barely preserved, others in Word documents. One window flew to the front of his screen, causing a video of his parents to play.
You found it just in time. We left you the ultimate boon and responsibility. Before you, a puzzle of unknowable proportions. Answers to our absence, your past, and the world are upon you. They are within you.
Here you have found our first message within your core, but this is only the first of many. Here are the most important religious texts of humanity. But there is more throughout the different cells in your heart. We cannot tell you where each piece of information is, but the Index can guide you through the wealth of knowledge. So where should you look now?
The video ended with yet another glitch.
Ferris thought back to the childhood conversations with his parents. “So Ferris, what’s the most important organ system you have?”
“Surely the heart, because it carries nutrients throughout the body! But after that it must be the lungs, because they get oxygen from the air!” Ferris would cry out as a youth.
After two heart biopsies, he wondered whether he could even handle a lung biopsy now. It had been a long day. But the call to get answers was too great, he had grown impatient with waiting.
He set up the DNA polymerizer and Proteosynthesizer 9000 to feed into the dataDNA player and trigger its ‘play’ sequence; again without the ‘Standard Transcription Factors’ so that glitch-1 would help decode the new message from his lungs.
After finishing his own lung biopsy, Ferris threw back a drink and laid down, waiting for the dataDNA player to read the tube. When the data failed to load, an error appeared on the screen. Ferris had already drifted off.
Tune in next time as Ferris tries to understand what to do with all the extraneous DNA within his body.
Part III Coming Soon!
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