Research highlight

Synthetic biology: Waking up (genetic circuits) with coffee

Nature Communications

June 20, 2018

A genetic circuit designed to regulate blood glucose levels, which is activated by the caffeine found in coffee, is demonstrated in a mouse model of diabetes. The findings are reported in Nature Communications this week.

Type-2 diabetes mellitus affects more than 400 million people worldwide with substantial associated health costs. Successful health management requires monitoring and responding to the increase in blood glucose following food.

Martin Fussenegger and colleagues investigated whether caffeine could be used to induce gene expression to help regulate blood glucose. The authors designed a synthetic biology genetic circuit, called caffeine-stimulated advanced regulators (C-STAR), which responds to the caffeine found in commercially available products, and produces a peptide used for the treatment of type-2 diabetes. In mouse models of diabetes, cells carrying the C-STAR system helped to control blood glucose levels after coffee consumption.

Although only a proof-of-principle demonstration that genetic circuits can be used to regulate medical conditions with commonly available compounds, the work demonstrates how synthetic biology may one day be used in healthcare with minimal invasive disruptions to lifestyle.

doi: 10.1038/s41467-018-04744-1

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