Cells talk to tick together
Posted January 21, 2010
Timing is everything for Tal Danino and his colleagues. Using computer simulation and genetic engineering, they’re synchronizing bacteria into something like a biological metronome, producing regular, adjustable pulses of activity.
Similar genetic clocks are ubiquitous in nature and govern processes like cell generation, heart function and the circadian rhythms that regulate sleep cycles. But Danino and University of California, San Diego (UCSD) colleagues Octavio Mondragón-Palomino, Lev Tsimring and Jeff Hasty are the first to synthesize a coordinated circuit.
Danino, a fourth-year Department of Energy Computational Science Graduate Fellow (DOE CSGF) and doctoral student at UCSD, is lead author of a paper describing the research, published this week in Nature.
Synchronized oscillations are important to harnessing bacteria for specific purposes, says Hasty, who also is Danino’s doctoral adviser. “If you’re going to have a sensor or other biotechnology application, cells oscillating out of phase will not give you much of a signal. But if they’re all in phase they will have a bigger signal.”