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Scientists Turn Cells into Living Computers

What's the Latest Development?

By modifying a genetic toggle switch, synthetic biologists at MIT have found a way to perform logic functions inside of living cells. Based on plasmids, circular strings of DNA, scientists devised and inserted 16 different DNA strings into Escherichia coli cells, one for  each of the binary logic functions allowable in computation. "The key to the system is the use of recombinase enzymes, which cut and rearrange promoter and terminator DNA sequences to turn them on or off. In other words, recombinase enzymes are the inputs that determine whether the output gene is transcribed."

What's the Big Idea?

Synthetic biology seeks to bring concepts from electronic engineering to cell biology, treating gene functions as components in a circuit. Timothy Lu, who led the recent research, said that such an approach could also be useful in biotechnology. "Using simple forms of these addressable switches, manufacturers could grow cell cultures in which key genes are turned off until activated by a signal compound, permanently turning on production of a drug, for example, when the system is ready." Other switches could be made to halt production when some threshold has been reached.

Photo credit: Shutterstock.com

Read it at Nature

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