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Cells sense the environment, process information, and make response to stimuli. To make cells work well in complex natural environments, lots of processes have to be preset to react to various signals. However, when well-characterized modules are combined to construct higher order systems, unpredictable behaviors often occur because of the interplay between modules. Another significant problem is that complex integrated systems composed of numerous parts may cause cell overload.

We proposed an elegant method to design higher order systems. Instead of merely combining different functional modules, we constructed one integrated processing module with fewer parts by utilizing the common structures between modules. The circuit we designed is a rewirable one and the topological structure of the processing module can be altered to adapt to environmental change. The basic idea is to rewire the connections between parts and devices to implement multiple functions with the help of the site-specific recombination systems.

Based on the design principle we put forward, we built two circuits to verify our idea. Each circuit has three modules including an input module, a processing module, and an output module. The input module receives environmental signal and triggers the rewiring of the processing module. The output module monitors real-time processes using fluorescence intensity.

Our design approach may lead to a revolutionary step towards system integration in synthetic biology. Potential fields of application include organism development, living therapeutics and environment improvement.

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