Implanted into Bacteria, Synthetic DNA Functions as a Diagnostic Computer

Jiwon Kim
February 16th 2013

In the movie Fantastic Voyage, a submarine and its crew were shrunk and injected into the body of a sick man in an attempt to save his life. Despite the fictional nature of this story, in the near future miniaturized, organic "computers" may roam our bodies, detecting early-stage diseases and treating them on the spot. There are already 10 times more bacterial cells than human cells in our bodies – so why not add a few more?

In a first step towards creating DNA-based diagnostic tools, researchers at the Weizmann Institute of Science have created a "genetic device" and implanted it into bacterial cells. The section of synthetic DNA operates independently of the bacteria's own genome, scanning for transcription factors, special proteins that bind to DNA and direct the flow of information. Using a logical sequence known in computing as a NOR gate, the device identifies abnormal transcription factors – a give-away for tumors – and creates green fluorescent protein if it finds one. Following the success of the study, the researchers are studying whether such bacteria could be used to diagnose cancer in humans, or whether the synthetic DNA could be inserted directly into human cells.

Nanobiotechnology may soon enable microorganisms to function like the organic equivalents of computers. Through recent advances in technology, the Fantastic Voyage may become a reality. This once fictional domain is becoming smaller and more blurred with reality.

Story via Science Daily.

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