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Programming cells for chemical production and disease detection

In case you missed it, an article Technology Review offers a closer look at how scientists are taking computing beyond mechanics and electronics into the realm of living cells. Katherine Bourzac reports on efforts by Stanford biologists to develop methods for programming cells to detect diseases or make adjustments in fermentation tanks used to manufacture drugs or other chemicals.

... [R]esearchers at Stanford University have developed a way to make genetic parts that can perform the logic calculations that might someday control such activities.

The Stanford researchers’ genetic logic gate can be used to perform the full complement of digital logic tasks, and it can store information, too. It works by making changes to the cell’s genome, creating a kind of transcript of the cell’s activities that can be read out later with a DNA sequencer. The researchers call their invention a “transcriptor” for its resemblance to the transistor in electronics. “We want to make tools to put computers inside any living cell—a little bit of data storage, a way to communicate, and logic,” says Drew Endy, the bioengineering professor at Stanford who led the work.

Further down in the story Endy explains how the work could be used to improve diagnosis and treatment of cancer.

Previously: The “new frontier” of synthetic biology, Cracking the code of 1000 (make that 1092!) genomes and Drew Endy discusses developing rewritable digital data storage in DNA

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