Library Of Genetic Circuits Developed For Scientific Functions

Posted: August 4, 2012 at 8:14 am

August 3, 2012

April Flowers for redOrbit.com Your Universe Online

For about a dozen years, synthetic biologists have been working on designing genetic circuits to perform novel functions such as manufacturing new drugs, producing fuel or even programming the suicide of cancer cells.

Many factors have to be controlled for this dream to become a reality. Scientists have to gain control over complex genetic and cellular components, including genes and the regulatory proteins, called transcription factors, that turn them on and off.

So far, most researchers use bacterium transcription factors to design their synthetic circuits. These dont always translate well to nonbacterial cells and can be a challenge to scale. This makes it harder to create complex circuits.

Timothy Lu, assistant professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at MIT, and a group of colleagues from Boston University and Massachusetts General Hospital have come up with a new method to design transcription factors for nonbacterial cells (in this case, yeast cells). To overcome the current bottleneck that has limited synthetic biology so far, they have designed an initial library of 19 new transcription factors.

Published in the August 2 issue of the journal Cell, the project is touted as being part of a larger, ongoing effort to create genetic parts that can then be assembled into circuits to achieve specific functions.

If you look at a parts registry, a lot of these parts come from a hodgepodge of different organisms. You put them together into your organism of choice and hope that it works, says Lu.

The team got a much-needed boost to build this new library of parts from recent advances in designer proteins that bind DNA.

Transcription factors have a section that latches onto specific DNA sequences, called a promoter. The protein then uses an enzyme called RNA polymerase to start copying the gene into messenger RNA, the molecule that carries genetic instructions to the rest of the cell.

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Library Of Genetic Circuits Developed For Scientific Functions

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