This Programming Language Writes Biological Codes For Living Cells

A programming language has been written to create biological circuits working inside living cells. The findings describing this invention are published in Science.

MIT biological engineers have devised a programming language that can be used to give new functions to E. coli bacteria. Credit: Janet Iwasa.
A programming language is being used to give new instructions to cells. Photo credits: Janet Iwasa.

Imagine if we could create biological circuits that work like electronic ones and insert them in the body to fix things. Well, a ‘computer program’ to assist cells in detecting cancer has recently been made by scientists — this might sound far-fetched, but a new research aims at bringing this from the sci-fi world to reality.

A team of researchers have put together a programming language based on Verilog (which is widely used for computer chip programming) that works similarly to computer code that can rally living cells to fight diseases and deficiencies through the construction of biological circuits. The language is a text-based one that can be turned into a DNA sequence inserted into a living cell where the circuit is able to work wonders, explains MIT biological engineer, Christopher Voigt.

The circuits in question are used inside living cells; the preliminary models are simple enough, but future ones are expected to be much improved such that cells could be reprogrammed to synthesise drugs to immediately kill cancers previously detected. Another prospective branch from this research entails reprogramming bacteria to assist humans for purposes like digestion. The researchers’ ambition extend to plants too: they believe plants could be made to incorporate bacteria that could synthesise insecticides if they encounter threatening situations.

Voigt and his team have already set up biological circuits that can measure variables ranging from light to temperature and pH. Their largest one till date is made of over 12,000 DNA base pairs.

This language that allows them to create the circuits might even be released on the Internet, as Voigt has pointed out.

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