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Boston Biohackers Develop Genetic Circuits
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Boston Biohackers Develop Genetic Circuits

by P. H. MadoreNovember 17, 2015

While not an immediately new story, the work of James Collins and his colleagues in Boston is quite notable in that it is innovating on the potential of scientists to influence human functions.

Researchers have created what they consider “circuits,” which are paper-based and able to be used by researchers at a later date for much lower expense than previously used methods. One example of the fruits of their research is a circuit that can detect antibiotic resistant bacteria.

“We’ve harnessed the genetic machinery of cells and embedded them in the fiber matrix of paper, which can then be freeze-dried for storage and transport — we can now take synthetic biology out of the lab and use it anywhere to better understand our health and the environment,” Keith Pardee, a colleague of Collins, said in a somewhat dated press release.

The research was particularly applicable to the Ebola outbreak, according to the press release, and another member of the team, Alex Green, “was eager to test the paper–based platform as an operating system for the toehold switch, which he had initially developed for programming gene expression in living cells.”

Use of the term “circuit” is derived from the ability of the innovation to utilize several Toehold gene switches in once, creating what for lack of a better term are circuits. Not the integrated circuits that geeks are used to, but circuits all the same.

Standing on their own, both paper–based synthetic gene networks and toehold switch gene regulators could each have revolutionary impacts on synthetic biology: the former brings synthetic biology out of the traditional confinement of a living cell, the latter provides a rational design framework to enable de–novo design of both the parts and the network of gene regulation. But combining the two technologies together could truly set the stage for powerful, multiplex biological circuits and sensors that can be quickly and inexpensively assembled for transport and use anywhere in the world.

The purpose of synthetic biology is to create biological systems that are useful, among other things, although there appears to be controversy about the actual ethos of synthetic biology. In any case, the Wyss Institute, where these mad scientists have been conspiring, “uses Nature’s design principles to develop bioinspired materials and devices that will transform medicine and create a more sustainable world.”

“Whether used in vivo or in vitro, the ability to rationally design gene regulators opens many doors for increasingly complex synthetic biological circuits,” said Alex Green. The medical implications of the research are vast, in that disease strains can now be detected in cultures much faster. Indeed, the future may look very different for human beings dealing with increasingly complex infectious diseases.

Image from Shutterstock.


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