Synthetic cells make long-distance calls

phys.org | 8/12/2019 | Staff
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The search for effective biological tools is a marathon, not a sprint, even when the distances are on the microscale. A discovery at Rice University on how engineered communities of cells communicate is a long step in the right direction.

The Rice lab of synthetic biologist Matthew Bennett has designed a set of transcriptional circuits that, when added to (and expressed by) the genomes of single-cell microbes, allows them to quickly form a network of local interactions to spur collective action, even in large communities.

Research - Nature - Chemical - Biology - Strains

Research published in Nature Chemical Biology shows engineered strains of Escherichia coli transmitting signals down a bacteria-filled corridor and coordinating their actions. The ability to do so could lead to engineered microbes that treat conditions in gut microbiomes or communicate with bioelectronics.

"Cells often use chemical signals to communicate and relay information to each other," Bennett said. "However, chemical signals have a limited range. After they leave the cell, they diffuse through whatever medium the cells are in, and that can only go so far.

Study - System - Strains - Types - Communication

"In this study we looked at a previous system we built that uses two different strains and different types of communication between them to study how, once we increase the size of the colony containing these strains, it would react," he said.

The evidence appears not only in a video from the lab that shows groups of microbes pulsing as they signal each other across the span of the experiment, but also in mathematical models by frequent collaborators Jae Kyoung Kim, a professor of mathematics at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, and Krešimir Josić, a professor of mathematics at the University of Houston and an adjunct professor of biosciences at Rice.

Microbes - Proteins - Feedback - Loops - Effect

The microbes were modified to express proteins that activated positive and negative feedback loops. To characterize the effect of the modifications, the...
(Excerpt) Read more at: phys.org
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