What have you always wondered about the economy? Tell Us
Codebreaker

E. coli and the ability to program biological cells

John Moe Dec 13, 2010

Researchers at the University of California San Francisco have engineered E. coli with the “key molecular circuitry that will enable genetic engineers to program cells to communicate and perform computations.” It’s a way to program biological activity the way computers are programmed. All those 1’s and 0’s that make up programs for the software we use are the same logic operations in cellular computation. Researcher Christopher Voigt says:

“We think of electronic currents as doing computation, but any substrate can act like a computer, including gears, pipes of water, and cells,” Voigt said. “Here, we’ve taken a colony of bacteria that are receiving two chemical signals from their neighbors, and have created the same logic gates that form the basis of silicon computing.”

“The purpose of programming cells is not to have them overtake electronic computers,” explained Voigt, whom Scientist magazine named a “scientist to watch” in 2007 and whose work is included among the Scientist’s Top 10 Innovations of 2009. “Rather, it is to be able to access all of the things that biology can do in a reliable, programmable way.”

Marketplace is on a mission.

We believe Main Street matters as much as Wall Street, economic news is made relevant and real through human stories, and a touch of humor helps enliven topics you might typically find…well, dull.

Through the signature style that only Marketplace can deliver, we’re on a mission to raise the economic intelligence of the country—but we don’t do it alone. We count on listeners and readers like you to keep this public service free and accessible to all. Will you become a partner in our mission today?

Your donation is critical to the future of public service journalism. Support our work today – for as little as $5 – and help us keep making people smarter.