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Scientists Program Cells to Remember and Respond to Series of Stimuli


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Integrating memory with computation via synthetic biology.

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have used synthetic biology to program cells to remember and respond to a series of events.

Credit: Timothy Lu et al

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers have used synthetic biology to program cells to remember and respond to a series of events.

The researchers created biological "state machines," or devices that exist in different states depending on the identities and orders of inputs they receive, with circuits that rely on enzymes called recombinases.

After creating circuits that could record events, the researchers incorporated genes into the array of recombinase binding sites, along with genetic regulatory elements, and tested this approach with three genes that code for different fluorescent proteins. The system enabled the researchers to track cellular events that occur in a particular order, create environmental sensors that store complex histories, or program cellular trajectories.

They programmed E. coli cells to respond to substances commonly used in lab experiments, but the recombinases could be re-engineered to respond to other conditions for medical or environmental applications. "You can build very complex computing systems if you integrate the element of memory together with computation," says MIT professor Timothy Lu.

Lu's lab hopes to use this approach to examine cellular processes controlled by a series of events, such as the appearance of cytokines or other signaling molecules, or the activation of certain genes.

From MIT News
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