The 2010 has been the year of Venter's synthetic genome. What about 2011, new developments at the horizon?
Synthetic physiology. One goal of synthetic physiology would be to integrate a new genetic function into mammalian cells, i.e., a circuit that can detect a diseased state and then trigger a therapeutic appropriate response. Two studies are pursuing this goal. The group of Martin Fussenegger (Basel, Switzerland) reported their success in developing a light-driven mechanism to control transcription. The 'photoactivation' switch uses melanopsin, a retinal protein that release a calcium surge when exposed to blue light. The researchers engineered it so that the transient of calcium would activate, via calcineurin, the transcription factor NFAT. To prove that the technique has therapeutic potential, they coupled NFAT activation to insulin production in a mouse model of diabetes. When bathing in blue light, the diabetic mice 'switched on' insulin production and prevented the dangerous glycemic excursion consecutive of eating glucose. [Science 332, 1565-1568; 2011]. Interestingly, the trigger of synthetic circuits could be also an endogenous one: the groups of Weiss (Cambridge, MA) and Benenson (Basel, CH) developed together a miRNA-based synthetic logic circuit that identifies and specifically kills HeLa cancer cells. The genetic circuit senses the expression level of a customizable set of endogenous miRNAs and after customizable AND or NOT gating, triggers a customizable cellular response (i.e., apoptosis), opening the way to the design of synthetic circuits for futuristic clinical purposes. [Science 333, 1307-1311; 2011]
|A comic appeared on Nature in 2004.|