November 08, 2011

Cyborg yeast

Cyborg cowNormally when the media claums something is 'cyborg' they are exaggerating, but in this case they are actually right: In silico feedback for in vivo regulation of a gene expression circuit, published in Nature Biotechnology actually demonstrates a cybernetic yeast culture.

The basic setup is to use added light-switchable genes to control a synthetic genetic circuit in yeast cells. The problem with synthetic genetic circuits is that they often misbehave due to the messiness of biology. By connecting the output of the genetic circuit to production of a reporter protein that fluoresces and having a light-sensitive protein control the input, they could get an external computer to "tune" the cells in a feedback loop.

This is of classical cybernetics, where information processing and regulation occurs across a combined biological and technological system. There doesn't have to be any implants, although one might argue that the extra genes are a kind of implants.

I like the idea of computer controlled yeast. Maybe that could be used for some interesting forms of baking - yeast releasing the right taste compounds in complex laser-controlled patterns, or having a bakery computer monitoring their progress, ensuring even quality. Cyborg yeast might enable fine control over our bread - at least sufficiently thin bread.

Posted by Anders3 at November 8, 2011 06:33 PM