By building circuits out of DNA and cellular proteins, researchers at Stanford have found a way to program the body’s cells with logic functions, similar to how computer chips work on larger scales. “It works by making changes to the cell’s genome, creating a kind of transcript of the cell’s activities that can be read out later with a DNA sequencer.” Drew Endy, bioengineering professor at Stanford, said: “We want to make tools to put computers inside any living cell—a little bit of data storage, a way to communicate, and logic.”
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What’s the Big Idea?
Biologists expect that if the body’s cellular functions can be controlled in ways similar to computer code, the production of essential disease-fighting antibodies could be regulated. “Cells genetically programmed with a biological ‘AND’ gate might, for instance, be used to detect and treat cancer. If protein A and protein B are present—where those proteins are characteristic of, say, breast cancer—then this could trigger the cell to produce protein C, a drug.” The researchers’ ultimate goal is to make cells that perform computations analogous to those of microchips.