Genetic system performs logic operations and stores data in DNA

Roland Pease in Nature:

ScreenHunter_106 Feb. 15 17.10Synthetic biologists have developed DNA modules that perform logic operations in living cells. These ‘genetic circuits’ could be used to track key moments in a cell’s life or, at the flick of a chemical switch, change a cell’s fate, the researchers say. Their results are described this week in Nature Biotechnology1.

Synthetic biology seeks to bring concepts from electronic engineering to cell biology, treating gene functions as components in a circuit. To that end, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge have devised a set of simple genetic modules that respond to inputs much like the Boolean logic gates used in computers.

“These developments will more readily enable one to create programmable cells with decision-making capabilities for a variety of applications,” says James Collins, a synthetic biologist at Boston University in Massachusetts who was not involved in the study.

Collins developed the genetic ‘toggle switch’ that helped to kick-start the field of synthetic biology more than a decade ago2. A wide range of computational circuits for cells have been developed since…

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