Monday, November 7, 2011

'Cyborg' yeast genes run by computer

Scientists have succeeded in forming a "feedback loop" between a computer and a common yeast to precisely control the switching on and off of specific genes.

The computer controlled flashes of light to start and stop this gene expression, "learning" how to reach and maintain a set value.

The groundbreaking approach could find use in future efforts to control biological processes, such as the production of biofuel from microbes.

It appears in Nature Biotechnology.

The approach is a comparatively simple means to take control of fantastically complex biochemical processes to achieve a desired result.

"The neat thing about this is that there are many people who have tried to do things like this by, for example, coding in the cell itself a synthetic circuit, putting genes and mechanisms in the cell," said senior author John Lygeros, of the Automatic Control Laboratory at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich.

"That's had limited success up to now."

Prof Lygeros and his colleagues started with the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae - a well-studied strain of yeast familiar since ancient times in brewing and baking. more