, Volume 4, Issue 3, pp 227-236,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.
Date: 15 Jun 2010

Processing DNA molecules as text


Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) is the DNA-equivalent of Gutenberg’s movable type printing, both allowing large-scale replication of a piece of text. De novo DNA synthesis is the DNA-equivalent of mechanical typesetting, both ease the setting of text for replication. What is the DNA-equivalent of the word processor? Biology labs engage daily in DNA processing—the creation of variations and combinations of existing DNA—using a plethora of manual labor-intensive methods such as site-directed mutagenesis, error-prone PCR, assembly PCR, overlap extension PCR, cleavage and ligation, homologous recombination, and others. So far no universal method for DNA processing has been proposed and, consequently, no engineering discipline that could eliminate this manual labor has emerged. Here we present a novel operation on DNA molecules, called Y, which joins two DNA fragments into one, and show that it provides a foundation for DNA processing as it can implement all basic text processing operations on DNA molecules including insert, delete, replace, cut and paste and copy and paste. In addition, complicated DNA processing tasks such as the creation of libraries of DNA variants, chimeras and extensions can be accomplished with DNA processing plans consisting of multiple Y operations, which can be executed automatically under computer control. The resulting DNA processing system, which incorporates our earlier work on recursive DNA composition and error correction, is the first demonstration of a unified approach to DNA synthesis, editing, and library construction.

Uri Shabi and Shai Kaplan are Equally Contributed.