Cells respond to the environment and perform their different functions via computational operations performed by DNA-encoded circuits that process sensory information. More specifically, these operations are performed by networks of regulatory proteins that integrate signals and control the timing of gene expression. Cells can be programmed using synthetic genetic circuits to generate a desired operation.
Nielsen et al. used the hardware description language Verilog to develop Cello, a tool that enables a user to describe a circuit function. Cello (www.cellocad.org) can use information provided as algorithms that parse the Verilog text in order to automatically design a DNA sequence encoding the desired circuit.
In brief, the user can write Verilog code that is automatically transformed into a DNA sequence. The authors used Cello to design 60 circuits for E. Coli (880 kbp of DNA), for which each DNA sequence was built as predicted by the software. Across all circuits 92% of the output states functioned as predicted.
This work constitutes a hardware description language for programming living cells. These findings bear great potential (but also great risks/dangers) for biotechnology and even for medicine. Careful monitoring and guidelines with regards to advancement of this field of science are needed.
Genetic circuit design automation. Nielsen AA, Der BS, Shin J, Vaidyanathan P, Paralanov V, Strychalski EA, Ross D, Densmore D, Voigt CA. Science. 2016 Apr 1;352(6281):aac7341. PMID: 27034378
Posted by Yannis Trakadis, MD