Why cells are like computers—And how ‘hacking’ them could lead to new diagnostic tools

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Cells are basically tiny computers: They send and receive inputs and output accordingly. If you chug a Frappuccino, your blood sugar spikes, and your pancreatic cells get the message. Output: more insulin.

But cellular computing is more than just a convenient metaphor. In the last couple of decades, biologists have been working to hack the cells’ algorithm in an effort to control their processes…In a paper published…in Nature Biotechnology, researchers programmed human cells to obey 109 different sets of logical instructions. With further development, this could lead to cells capable of responding to specific directions or environmental cues in order to fight disease or manufacture important chemicals.

Here’s how it worked: Whenever the cell did contain a specific DNA recombinase protein, it would NOT produce a blue fluorescent protein that made it light up. But when the cell did not contain the enzyme, its instruction was DO light up…

Wong says that you could use these lit up cells to diagnose diseases, by triggering them with proteins associated with a particular disease…This would be much cheaper than current methods that require expensive machinery to analyze the blood sample.

The GLP aggregated and excerpted this blog/article to reflect the diversity of news, opinion, and analysis. Read full, original post: Scientists Hack a Human Cell and Reprogram It Like a Computer

For more background on the Genetic Literacy Project, read GLP on Wikipedia.

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