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Boston University Professor Outlines New Platform To Hack Living Cells [Video]

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Researchers use DNA excision to program living cells
Researchers use DNA excision to program living cells
(Photo : Fred Prouser-Pool/Getty Images)

Wilson Wong, an assistant professor at Boston University, has published a new study that outlines a new simplified platform to hack living cells. This allows scientists to target and program mammalian cells as genetic circuits more quickly and efficiently.

Wong said that synthetic biologists have been trying to solve the issue of how to ask cells to make decisions. They are also trying to design a strategy for these cells to make the decision that scientists want it to do.

He added that they took a different design approach and created a framework for researchers to target specific cell types and making these cells perform different types of computations. This is expected to be useful in developing new methods for tissue engineering, stem cell research and diagnostic applications, among others.

In a press release via EurekAlert, it was reported that Wong's approach uses DNA recombinases. These are enzymes that cut and paste pieces of DNA sequences which allow for more targeted manipulation of cells and their behavior.

The platform is named "BLADE" or "Boolean Logic and Arithmetic through DNA Excision." This pertains to the computer language the cells are programmed with and the computations they can be programmed to implement. It will allow researchers to use various signals or inputs in one streamlined device to control the targeted cell's outputs or behaviors.

According to Phys.org, first author of the paper Benjamin Weinberg, who is a graduate student in Wong's laboratory, said that they wanted to build a simple and flexible system that can be customized in the field to get the desired outcome using just one simple design. With BLADE, doctors can put in any combination of computations that they want in mammalian cells.

The paper was published in the journal "Nature Biotechnology." It provides over one hundred examples of circuits that the researchers were able to successfully build using BLADE, including complex circuits to demonstrate the capacity of the platform.

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