The Most Complex Synthetic Biology Circuit

MIT researchers have created what is being called the most complex synthetic biology circuit ever built.

Synthetic biologists design cellular circuits that can perform new functions, such as sensing environmental conditions, using genes as interchangeable parts. However, most of the circuits designed so far have been limited by the difficulty in assembling genetic components that don’t interfere with each other.


(4-input AND gate)

Unlike electronic circuits on a silicon chip, biological circuits inside a cell cannot be physically isolated from one another. “The cell is sort of a burrito. It has everything mixed together,” says Christopher Voigt, an associate professor of biological engineering at MIT.

Because all the cellular machinery for reading genes and synthesizing proteins is jumbled together, researchers have to be careful that proteins that control one part of their synthetic circuit don’t hinder other parts of the circuit.

Voigt and his students have now developed circuit components that don’t interfere with one another, allowing them to produce the most complex synthetic circuit ever built. The circuit, described in the Oct. 7 issue of Nature, integrates four sensors for different molecules. Such circuits could be used in cells to precisely monitor their environments and respond appropriately.

“It’s incredibly complex, stitching together all these pieces,” says Voigt, who is co-director of the Synthetic Biology Center at MIT. Larger circuits would require computer programs that Voigt and his students are now developing, which should allow them to combine hundreds of circuits in new and useful ways.

The pathway consists of three components: an activator, a promoter and a chaperone. A promoter is a region of DNA where proteins bind to initiate transcription of a gene. An activator is one such protein. Some activators also require a chaperone protein before they can bind to DNA to initiate transcription.

Fans of science fiction writer Greg Bear recall the living "biologics" from his 1984 novel Blood Music:

Why limit oneself to silicon and protein and biochips a hundreth of a millimeter wide, when in almost every living cell there was already a functioning computer with a huge memory? A mammallian cell had a DNA complement of several million base pairs, each acting as a piece of information. What was reproduction, after all, but a compterized biological process of enormous complexity and reliability? The earliest biologic strings had been inserted into E. coli bacteria as circular plasmids...
(Read more about Greg Bear's biologics)

Via Kurzweil AI and MIT.

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