Researchers have made a tiny molecular-scale computer that can analyse biological information in a test tube and respond appropriately. The device, described in a paper published online by Nature, may aid the development of microscopic biological computers that can operate within cells.
Ehud Shapiro and colleagues have made an autonomous molecular computer with the potential to analyse and control gene expression. The device, which currently only operates in vitro, senses levels of specific RNA molecules and responds by releasing a DNA molecule to suppress expression of a particular gene. In this case, the computer is programmed to identify and analyse the messenger RNA of genes that are linked to small-cell lung cancer or prostate cancer. In turn, it releases DNA molecules modelled on an anticancer drug.
Although still a very long way off, this DNA computer may be the distant precursor to future 'smart drugs' that can roam the human body and diagnose a diseased cell, tissue or organ and administer the appropriate therapy on location. However, more prosaic application of this 'logical' control of gene expression may be just around the corner.
Ehud Shapiro (Weizmann Institute, Rehovot, Israel)
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(C) Nature press release.
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