Friday, December 02, 2005

Bio-engineered Machines: Genetically-engineered E. coli-based digital decoders

Davidson Students Are Standouts at MIT Synthetic Biology Competition

From the College News press release:
Six Davidson students claimed standout status this fall as the only liberal arts undergraduates to present their work at the Intercollegiate Genetically Engineered Machines (iGEM) competition at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

...The Davidson team - "The Synth-Aces," a word play on enzymes called synthases - presented their design of a genetically-engineered, E. coli-based "digital decoder." The device detects which combination of three common chemicals (with eight combinations possible) is present, and then displays a human-readable number that glows in the dark. The number is produced by genetically customized bacteria that growin a familiar pattern of a digital numeric display. The resulting readouts of 0 through 7 correspond to the specific chemical combination detected in solution. One real world application of a decoderdevice might be to monitor water for contaminants or toxins.

To achieve such elegant simplicity, synthetic biology combines science, math, and high-powered computing to tease out virtually infinite genetic possibilities for designing and building this kind of bio-engineered "machine." This kind of deciphering and rewriting of nature's code with a specific cellular behavior in mind - custom-tailoring the machine's "parts" - is where some hardcore math and computing come in.


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