Course Blog

Freedom of Expression: How can we achieve that?

After battling with multiple ideas, seeking consultations, and taking the comments throughout the semester into consideration, our team have finally decided on the direction to take for our project. We would like to propose an upgraded way of communication and information transfer aided by biology.

Currently, freedom of expression is majorly supported by the existence of numerous social media platforms. However, a number of people cannot enjoy such freedom due to local government restrictions, insufficient infrastructure, or others. Even though this freedom is currently more experienced than 40 years ago, we believe everyone on Earth deserve such right regardless of their geographical location or ability to access technology and therefore this led us to this project proposal. Our idea allows freedom of expressing any ideas or opinions without fear of censorship, sanction, or retaliation.

It has been well known that information can be stored in DNA. How? In short, information in the form of sentences are translated to binary codes, which then further translated to triplet codes  and then to DNA codes (or DNA bases). To reduce the redundancy and increase the efficiency, DNA sequences are split into overlapping segments the alternate segments are converted to their reverse complement. The segments are then augmented with indexing information to locate the documents in the file easily (Goldman et al., 2013). Unfortunately, the problem storing information in DNA is the time-consuming information extraction.

Recently, a portable real-time DNA and RNA sequencing device, named minION, was developed and have been used in environmental research, pathogen analysis, and even bigger datasets. Nanopore sequencing is the core technology of this device. Nanopore system always contains an electrolytic solution where electric current can be observed when electric field is applied. How does the sequencing work? DNA strands that pass the nanopores cause current change which is measured to identify the bases of DNA.

Adapted from Extreme Tech website

We believe that information should be transferred freely and fearlessly in the future. We are proposing a system to accommodate this future scenario with the help of biological system, i.e. microorganisms. Instead of using digital media platform, people could store the necessary information in the bacterial DNA and place the vector (in this case, bacterium) on their body parts. Bacteria can be transferred easily and quickly, even in a brief exposure. The information transfer could be done through a touch, such as handshake, between the sender and recipient. The recipient then could swap their palm (if the transfer was through handshake), or other body parts involved, to collect the bacteria and process it in the portable DNA sequencing device. The device is inspired from minION and envisioned to be more time-efficient and affordable than the current device. Through our system, we hope that societies gain complete freedom of expression that is currently lacking in certain places. In addition, we hope that this freedom allows people to appreciate and spread factual information.



Goldman, N., Bertone, P., Chen, S., Dessimoz, C., LeProust, E. M., Sipos, B., & Birney, E. (2013). Towards practical, high-capacity, low-maintenance information storage in synthesized DNA. Nature494(7435), 77.