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Builders of genetic circuits face the same quandary as builders of digital circuits: testing their designs. Yet unlike bioengineers, engineers have a simple and universal testing tool—the multimeter—that they can touch to their circuit to measure its performance. "There's nothing remotely like this in bio," says Peter Carr, a synthetic biologist in MIT Lincoln Laboratory's Bioengineering Systems and Technologies Group.
That was, until recently. Carr and researchers in his group have developed a system that they liken to a "biomultimeter." The system, called PERSIA, uses fluorescent labeling to illuminate different parts of a genetic circuit and allows researchers to measure biological functions—including transcription, translation, and other enzyme activities—in vitro in real-time. A paper describing this work was published online in the journal ACS Synthetic Biology.
Way - Code - Designs - Genes - Questions
"We now have a way to quickly test new genetic code designs in specific genes. We can accelerate how we ask and answer questions with DNA," says coauthor David Walsh.
For synthetic biologists to engineer cells that work how they want them to—say, to be immune to a virus—they must be able to tell the cell which genes to express. To do this, they use synthetic DNA to program genetic circuits that control the cell's behavior. By measuring transcription (the process by which a gene's DNA is copied into RNA) and translation (the process by which that RNA is read to produce proteins) bioengineers can know how well a circuit is working.
Proteins - Fluorescent - Protein - GFP - Testing
Proteins such as green fluorescent protein (GFP) are already a favorite testing tool for gene expression. With such methods, a gene that carries instructions to produce fluorescent pigments can be fused to a gene in a DNA sequence that will produce a protein of interest. The GFP glow lets biologists know that this protein is being produced.
While GFP has been game-changing for bioresearch, it has its limitations....
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