Construction of more predictable bio-circuits

Biological circuits are an application of synthetic biology where intracellular biological parts are designed to perform logical functions. These bio-circuits are similar to electronic circuits and can be used to manipulate cellular functions. When biological circuits perform properly, they can produce many products like synthetic fuels, drugs etc.

However, electrical circuits are much more predictably than bio-circuits, which means that though the individual components of such biological circuits can have precise and predictable responses, the outcomes become less predictable as more such elements are combined.

Scientists have now come up with a solution to significantly reduce the randomness of biological circuits by setting up a device that could finally allow them to act nearly as predictably as their electronic counterparts.

The researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology lab, are using these circuits for bio-sensing, which deals with cells capable of detecting specific molecules in the environment and produce a specific output in response. This bio-sensing would allow cells to detect specific markers of cancerous cells, and as a result, would trigger the release of molecules targeted to kill those cells. Therefore it is of prime importance for such circuits to discriminate accurately between cancerous and noncancerous cells, so that their killing potential is not misused.

For this purpose, robust information-processing circuits needs to be created from biological elements within a cell. However this kind of robust predictability is almost impossible, because feedback effects arise when multiple stages of biological circuits are introduced. Biological circuits are made up of components that are floating around in a complex intracellular fluid environment. Information flow is driven by the chemical interactions of individual components, which ideally should affect only the specific components. But in practice, attempts to create such biological linkages have often produced completely different results.

The MIT team have constructed a genetic device known as load driver, which is similar to that of load drivers used in electronic circuits: It provides a kind of buffer between the signal and the output, preventing the effects of the signalling from backing up through the system and causing delays in outputs. Though the addition of load driver could shoot up the complexity of circuits but it would also open up new possible applications in a more predictable way.

Though the experts think that the research is at an early-stage and could take years to reach commercial application, the concept could have a wide variety of applications. For example, a synthetic biological circuit, which could constantly measure glucose and trigger the release of insulin when needed, could be developed,

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Arunima Maiti

Arunima Maiti

Biomedical scientist with special interest in reproductive biology.

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