Scientists find way to operate tiny “factories” inside engineered cells

In an effort to further improve current and future methods used in the biomedical field, a group of researchers have figured out a way to control the “factories” that essentially breathe life into engineered cells.

As a report on the finding states, the technique used by the researchers involves making changes to the natural ribosomes in cells. Ribosomes are widely known as microscopic factory-like parts of cells that are in charge of building proteins that keep cells alive and allow them to function. What the researchers have managed to do is to efficiently control the overall distribution of these ribosomes in order to better serve the cells needs.

It is said that the researchers can add synthetic circuitry to their engineered cells, thereby enhancing them and allowing them to perform certain specific bespoke functions. These changes in this new study — which let the researchers have more control over the ribosomes that serve up the resources inside the cells — could potentially lead to the creation of even better cells that have been specially programmed to produce new forms of antibiotics or some other kinds of useful compounds.

According to Declan Bates, a professor of bioengineering at the University of Warwick‘s School of Engineering and the co-director of the Warwick Integrative Synthetic Biology Center, the study could profoundly affect the future of medicine.

“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 explained. “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.”

The method devised by the researchers is important because each cell typically has a limited number of ribosomes in it. For that reason, both the synthetic circuit as well as the host cell where it is inserted in will be competing for the resources available from the limited pool through the ribosomes. Of course, it’s important for each of them to get enough nutrients to keep functioning, so that they can each survive, multiply, and later thrive. Otherwise, either the circuitry will die, or the cell itself will die. In a worst case scenario, both of them can die as well. (Related: Researchers discover how viruses manipulate the immune system to cause cancer.)

For their study, the researchers sought to apply a feedback control loop, which is said to be common in flight control systems, in order to distribute ribosomes dynamically. This leaves both the synthetic circuit and the cell itself with just enough ribosomes to satisfy their needs. If the synthetic circuit needs more of them to function properly, it will be given a bigger allocation. This means the host cell will have a smaller portion of ribosomes, but the situation can be easily reversed if the host cell becomes the one that requires more ribosomes.

José Jiménez, a lecturer in synthetic biology at the University of Surrey‘s Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, said that the ultimate goal of the “selective manipulation” of engineered cells is to achieve a better understanding of 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,” he said.

The researchers shared the details of their findings in a new study titled, “Dynamic allocation of orthogonal ribosomes facilitates uncoupling or expressed genes,” which was recently published in the journal Nature Communications.

Find out more new advancements in the biomedical field in

Sources include:

comments powered by Disqus