Eadweard Muybridge’s 1870s Photographs of Galloping Horses Get Encoded on the DNA of Living Bacteria Cells

If you’ve ever stud­ied the his­to­ry of pho­tog­ra­phy, you’ve inevitably encoun­tered Ead­weard Muybridge’s exper­i­ments from the 1870s, which used new inno­va­tions in pho­tog­ra­phy to answer a sim­ple ques­tion: When a horse trots, do all four of its hooves ever leave the ground at once? The ques­tion piqued the curios­i­ty of Leland Stan­ford, for­mer gov­er­nor of Cal­i­for­nia and co-founder of Stan­ford Uni­ver­si­ty. And so, as Col­in Mar­shall pre­vi­ous­ly not­ed here, he “called on an Eng­lish pho­tog­ra­ph­er named Ead­weard Muy­bridge, known for his work in such then-cut­ting-edge sub­fields as time-lapse and stere­og­ra­phy, and tasked him with fig­ur­ing it out. Using a series of cam­eras acti­vat­ed by trip wires as the horse trot­ted past, Muy­bridge proved that all four of its hooves do indeed leave the ground, win­ning Stan­ford the wager.” You can watch the footage result­ing from that exper­i­ment below.

Above, you can also see the strange new after­life of that same footage. Accord­ing to the Nation­al Insti­tute of Men­tal Health:

For the first time, [Muybridge’s] movie has been encod­ed in – and then played back from – DNA in liv­ing cells. Sci­en­tists fund­ed by the Nation­al Insti­tutes of Health say it is a major step toward a “mol­e­c­u­lar recorder” that may some­day make it pos­si­ble to get read-outs, for exam­ple, of the chang­ing inter­nal states of neu­rons as they devel­op. Neu­ro­sci­en­tist Seth Ship­man, Ph.D., of Har­vard Med­ical School, explains the study.

Ulti­mate­ly, this exper­i­ment demon­strates the “pow­er to turn liv­ing cells into dig­i­tal data ware­hous­es,” writes Wired. Ship­man does a good job of unpack­ing the study. Read more about it over at this NIH web­site.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Ead­weard Muybridge’s Motion Pho­tog­ra­phy Exper­i­ments from the 1870s Pre­sent­ed in 93 Ani­mat­ed Gifs

See the First Known Pho­to­graph Ever Tak­en (1826)

Behold the Very First Col­or Pho­to­graph (1861): Tak­en by Scot­tish Physi­cist (and Poet!) James Clerk Maxwell

Free Online Biol­o­gy Cours­es

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