Research Press Release

Biotechnology: Electronic switches to control bacteria

Nature Communications

January 18, 2017

Electronic control of bacteria is demonstrated in Nature Communications this week. Being able to precisely control the genetic behaviour of various cells would open up new potential avenues for industrial applications and bio-hybrid devices, such as cell-based biosensors.

Synthetic biology has expanded our ability to manipulate and guide cellular behaviour; in the past, methods of controlling gene expression using light, magnetism and radio waves have been demonstrated. William Bentley and colleagues show that electronic input can also be used to control a cell. They demonstrate an ‘electrogenetic’ circuit in which electronic signals activate a native bacterial protein that regulates gene expression. Using this system, the authors are able to control gene expression in order to induce bacterial swimming. Additionally, they build a cellular information relay in which one group of bacteria interprets the electronic signal and passes the information to another group to change their gene expression.

While this work is a proof-of-principle with no direct application currently, electronic control of cellular gene expression and behaviour could be useful for circumstances requiring precision and rapid response. This could include potential industrial or biotechnology applications, such as those using bacteria that are metabolically engineered to produce specific products.

DOI:10.1038/NCOMMS14030 | Original article

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