“It’s been hugely exciting in this project to see an engineering idea, developed on a computer, being built in a lab and working inside a living cell.”
Bacteria could be programmed to efficiently produce drugs, thanks to breakthrough research into synthetic biology using engineering principles from UK-based universities.
Led by the Warwick Integrative Synthetic Biology Centre at Warwick’s School of Engineering (@warwickuni) and the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences at the University of Surrey (@UniOfSurrey), new research has discovered how to dynamically manage the allocation of essential resources inside engineered cells – advancing the potential of synthetically programming cells to combat diseases and produce new drugs.
The researchers have developed a way to efficiently control the distribution of ribosomes – microscopic ‘factories’ inside cells that build proteins that keep the cell alive and functional – to both the synthetic circuit and the host cell.
Synthetic circuitry is added to the host cells to enhance the performance of the cell to produce desired proteins. Adding synthetic circuitry will enable the cell to be used as a factory to produce antibiotics and other valuable drugs. This will create great potentials in healthcare and pharmaceuticals.
When the synthetic circuitry is added to the host cell, they both compete for the resources produced by the ribosome as the number of ribosome in the cell is finite.
The researchers have demonstrated how ribosomes can be distributed dynamically, using engineering principle of feedback loop which is used in aircraft flight control system, this will help in allocating ribosomes to the synthetic circuit when it requires and less to the host cell and vice versa.
Declan Bates, Professor of Bioengineering at the University of Warwick’s School of Engineering and Co-Director, Warwick Integrative Synthetic Biology Centre (WISB), said: “Synthetic biology is about making cells easier to engineer so that we can address many of the most important challenges facing us today – from manufacturing new drugs and therapies to finding new biofuels and materials.
He added: “It’s been hugely exciting in this project to see an engineering idea, developed on a computer, being built in a lab and working inside a living cell.”
José Jiménez, Lecturer in Synthetic Biology at the University of Surrey’s Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, said: “The ultimate goal of the selective manipulation of cellular functions like the one carried out in this project is to understand fundamental principles of biology itself. By learning about how cells operate and testing the constraints under which they evolve, we can come up with ways of engineering cells more efficiently for a wide range of applications in biotechnology.
“Ribosomes live inside cells, and construct proteins when required for a cellular function. When a cell needs protein, the nucleus creates mRNA, which is sent to the ribosomes – which then synthesise the essential proteins by bonding the correct amino acids together in a chain.”