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Biological Transistor Enables Computing Within Living Cells, Study Says

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A representation of biological computing.

Researchers have developed a biological transistor that is made from genetic material.

Credit: Bruce Rolff/Shutterstock

Stanford University bioengineers have created a biological transistor they call a transcriptor, which is made from genetic material instead of gears or electrons.

"Transcriptors are the key component behind amplifying genetic logic--akin to the transistor and electronics," says Stanford's Jerome Bonnet.

The transcriptor allows computation to take place within living cells to save information such as a cell's exposure to external stimuli or environmental factors, or switch cell reproduction on or off.

"Biological computers can be used to study and reprogram living systems, monitor environments, and improve cellular therapeutics," says Stanford's Drew Endy.

In biologics, a transcriptor controls the flow of RNA polymerase as it moves along a DNA strand, just as an electronic transistor determines electron movement along a circuit.

"We have repurposed a group of natural proteins, called integrases, to realize digital control over the flow of RNA polymerase along DNA, which in turn allowed us to engineer amplifying genetic logic," Endy says.

The researchers use transcriptors to create logic gates, which they call Boolean Integrase Logic (BIL) gates, that can obtain true-false answers to biochemical questions within a cell. To hasten the development of a biological computer, the researchers have placed the BIL gates in the public domain to allow others to build on their work.

From Stanford University
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Abstracts Copyright © 2013 Information Inc., Bethesda, Maryland, USA


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