Boston University’s scientists team have found a way to hack into mammalian cells — human cells, even — and make them follow logical instructions like computers can.
Well it is not the first time they are doing research on it, previous successful studies mostly used Echerichia coli( a Gram-negative gammaproteobacterium commonly found in the lower intestine of warm-blooded organisms), which are much easier to manipulate.
These researchers were able to program human kidney cells into obeying 109 different sets of instructions, including responding to particular environmental conditions and following specific directions.
They were able to find out something positive while other teams failed to do so by using DNA recombination, genetic recombination enzymes that can recognize and stitch together two targets in a DNA strand and cut out anything in between. To trigger the recombination, they inserted another gene in the same cells to start the cutting process.
“The researchers programmed cells to light up when they did NOT contain the DNA recombination they used. In the future, they could use proteins associated with specific diseases to use technique as a diagnostic tool, since the samples would light up if the patient has the illness.”
Wong says their current sets of instructions are just proofs of concept. Other potential applications include manipulating T cells into killing tumors by using proteins that can detect two to three cancer cell bio-markers.
This technique can also be used to turn stem cells into any cells they want by using different signals, as well as to generate tissues on command. Wong and his team are only exploring those possibilities at the moment, though, and it’ll take time before we see them happen.