A research team, from Boston University (BU), has come up with a way of genetically engineering the DNA of human cells to carry out complex computations, in return turning the cells into biocomputers.
The technique could direct us, to genetically engineer our damaged tissues and fight diseases like cancer.
The research team from BU, led by Synthetic Biologist Wilson Wong, conducted this remarkable triumph within the genes of the human kidney cells.
For their study, the genetic circuit itself was designed using existing machinery in cells called a promoter. The DNA snippet, a small portion of DNA associated with one or more genes, first transcribes a cell’s DNA to RNA and then translates that into proteins.
Wong’s team inserted four extra DNA snippets after a promoter. One of those snippets was designed to produce a green fluorescent protein (GFP), which lights up a cell when switched on by a particular drug.
Using their technique, Wong and his team were able to build 113 different circuits with a 96.5 percent success rate.
A powerful computer circuitry leads to complex computational processes, similarly, cells genetically engineered to work as minicomputers can be more or less powerful based on their engineering.
Mammalian cells are difficult to use as genetic circuits because their ability to turn specific genes on and off relies on transcription factors, where “all behave slightly differently,” according to Wong.
The group hasn’t put these modified cells to work in useful ways yet, but down the road, researchers hope the new programming techniques will help improve everything from cancer therapy to on-demand tissues that can replace worn-out body parts.