logo

Easily 'Re-programmable cells' could be key in creation of new life forms

   
   
A pore cluster
07 Nov 2011 12:41:49.013
PA 345/11

Scientists at The University of Nottingham are leading an ambitious research project to develop an in vivo biological cell-equivalent of a computer operating system.

The success of the project to create a ‘re-programmable cell’ could revolutionise synthetic biology and would pave the way for scientists to create completely new and useful forms of life using a relatively hassle-free approach.

Professor Natalio Krasnogor of the University’s School of Computer Science, who leads the Interdisciplinary Computing and Complex Systems Research Group, said: “We are looking at creating a cell’s equivalent to a computer operating system in such a way that a given group of cells could be seamlessly re-programmed to perform any function without needing to modifying its hardware.”
Click here for full story

“We are talking about a highly ambitious goal leading to a fundamental breakthrough that will, —ultimately, allow us to rapidly prototype, implement and deploy living entities that are completely new and do not appear in nature, adapting them so they perform new useful functions.”

The game-changing technology could substantially accelerate Synthetic Biology research and development, which has been linked to myriad applications — from the creation of new sources of food and environmental solutions to a host of new medical breakthroughs such as drugs tailored to individual patients and the growth of new organs for transplant patients.

The multi-disciplinary project, funded with a leadership fellowship for Professor Krasnogor worth more than £1 million from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), involves computer scientists, biologists and chemists from Nottingham as well as academic colleagues at other universities in Scotland, the US, Spain and Israel.

The project — Towards a Biological Cell Operating System (AUdACiOuS) — is attempting to go beyond systems biology — the science behind understanding how living organisms work — to give scientists the power to create biological systems. The scientists will start the work by attempting to make e.coli bacteria much more easy to program.

Professor Krasnogor added: “This EPSRC Leadership Fellowship will allow me to transfer my expertise in Computer Science and informatics into the wet lab.

“Currently, each time we need a cell that will perform a certain new function we have to recreate it from scratch which is a long and laborious process. Most people think all we have to do to modify behaviour is to modify a cell’s DNA but it’s not as simple as that — we usually find we get the wrong behaviour and then we are back to square one. If we succeed with this AUdACiOuS project, in five years time, we will be programming bacterial cells in the computer and compiling and storing its program into these new cells so they can readily execute them.

“Like for a computer, we are trying to create a basic operating system for a biological cell.”

Among the most fundamental challenges facing the scientists will be developing new computer models that more accurately predict the behaviour of cells in the laboratory.

Scientists can already programme individual cells to complete certain tasks but scaling up to create a larger organism is trickier.

The creation of more sophisticated computer modelling programmes and a cell that could be re-programmed to fulfil any function without having to go back to the drawing board each time could largely remove the trial and error approach currently taken and allow synthetic biology research to take a significant leap forward.

The technology could be used in a whole range of applications where being able to modify the behaviour of organisms could be advantageous. In the long run, this includes the creation of new microorganisms that could help to clean the environment for example by capturing carbon from the burning of fossil fuel or removing contaminants, e.g. arsenic from water sources. Alternatively, the efficacy of medicine could be improved by tailoring it to specific patients to maximise the effect of the drugs and to reduce any harmful side effects.

The partners in the project are The University of Nottingham and The University of Edinburgh in the UK; Arizona State University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Michigan State University, New York University, University of California Santa Barbara, University of California, San Francisco in the US; Centro Nacional de Biotecnologia in Spain; and the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel.

— Ends —

Notes to editors: The University of Nottingham, described by The Sunday Times University Guide 2011 as ‘the embodiment of the modern international university’, has award-winning campuses in the United Kingdom, China and Malaysia. It is ranked in the UK's Top 10 and the World's Top 75 universities by the Shanghai Jiao Tong (SJTU) and the QS World University Rankings. It was named ‘Europe’s greenest university’ in the UI GreenMetric World University Ranking, a league table of the world’s most environmentally-friendly higher education institutions, which ranked Nottingham second in the world overall.

The University is committed to providing a truly international education for its 40,000 students, producing world-leading research and benefiting the communities around its campuses in the UK and Asia. Impact: The Nottingham Campaign, its biggest ever fund-raising campaign, will deliver the University’s vision to change lives, tackle global issues and shape the future. For more details, visit: http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/impactcampaign

More than 90 per cent of research at The University of Nottingham is of international quality, according to the most recent Research Assessment Exercise, with almost 60 per cent of all research defined as ‘world-leading’ or ‘internationally excellent’. Research Fortnight analysis of RAE 2008 ranked the University 7th in the UK by research power. The University’s vision is to be recognised around the world for its signature contributions, especially in global food security, energy & sustainability, and health.

More news from the University at: http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/news

Story credits

More information is available from Professor Natalio Krasnogor on +44 (0)115 846 7592, natalio.krasnogor@nottingham.ac.uk; or Twitter — nkrasnogor
Emma Thorne

Emma Thorne - Media Relations Manager

Email: emma.thorne@nottingham.ac.uk Phone: +44 (0)115 951 5793 Location: University Park
 

Additional resources

No additional resources for this article

Related articles

Nottingham part of £20m investment for UK synthetic biology

Published Date
Monday 12th November 2012

Playing God?

Published Date
Wednesday 17th March 2010

Life, but not as we know it?

Published Date
Wednesday 28th May 2008

Supercomputing set to boost region's competitiveness

Published Date
Wednesday 23rd May 2012

News and Media - Marketing, Communications and Recruitment

The University of Nottingham
C Floor, Pope Building (Room C4)
University Park
Nottingham, NG7 2RD

telephone: +44 (0) 115 951 5765
email: communications@nottingham.ac.uk