Joshua Leonard, a synthetic biologist at Northwestern University, and a team of scientists have developed a process for constructing complex genetic circuits for cell engineering.
One of the most interesting areas in medicine is the use of living cells as therapy. For example, using this approach to treat cancer, many patients have been cured. This is being achieved by approaches from synthetic biology, an emerging field that combines tools and concepts from biology and engineering.
The new technology, created by scientists at Northwestern University, uses computer modeling to efficiently identify useful genetic constructs before creating them in the laboratory.
“To design a cell, we first code the desired biological function in a piece of DNA. This program is then delivered to a human cell to, for example, activate a gene in response to certain signals in the cellular environment, ”explains the author of the study.
The study, which designed and tested dozens of genetic circuits, is published in Science Advances. Like other synthetic biology technologies, a key feature of this approach is that it is intended for use by other groups of bioengineers.
Today, the development of genetic programs by trial and error remains difficult and time-consuming. It is also difficult to implement biological functions beyond the relatively simple ones. The research team used a “toolbox” of genetic parts and combined these parts with computational tools to simulate many potential genetic programs before conducting experiments. They found that a wide range of genetic programs, each of which performs a desired and beneficial function in the human cell, can be engineered to make each program work as intended.
The genetic circuits developed and implemented in this study are also more complex than in the prior art. This advancement makes it possible to create cells to perform more complex functions and make therapy safer and more effective.