Team:UANL Mty-Mexico/project


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Since the adoption of the toggle switch [1] and logic gates [2] through the use of synthetic gene circuits, synthetic biologists have demonstrated that cells can be programmed as computers. Subsequently, the component problem [3] drove scientists to the generation of additional parts in order to make possible such programming of living cells. As a next step in bioprogramming, our team designed a strategy to hack programmed cells in situ. We believe that several applications will emerge from our conception, some of them approaching biosafety methods for the release of GMOs into the environment.

What is hacking - Return

Speaking about computer systems, the word "hacking" has two definitions [4]. The first one, the most commonly known in the globe, refers to the action of breaking into computer systems to sabotage, rearrange/reprogram, and/or monitor a system, the information contained in the system and how the system is programmed . The second one, rarely used in mainstream context, refers to the advanced understanding of computer systems.

Bio-hacking - Return

Experts in biology are recently being called biohackers. However, in our work we refer to the term as the ability to sabotage or rearrange/reprogram DNA codified programs in a cell.

Cells, as computers, have numerous programs contained on their DNA that provide them with a number of functions, for instance, operons for the metabolism of compounds that are only active in the presence of the specific compound and metabolic routes for the biosynthesis of aminoacids that are coordinated to produce the aminoacids as required. In iGEM, as an international competition of synthetic biology, artificial programs are used to engineer organisms with the use of plasmids as the vectors that contain these programs. In our project, we present a strategy to be able to hack these artificial programs with high specificity, i.e., without affecting any program not developed at the laboratory.

Applications of bio-hacking - Return

Every year, students' efforts result in valuable biological machines with exploitable applications. Unfortunately, concerns about their release into the environment restrict their exploitability. Being able to hack the genetic composition of an organism in situ would allow to control genetically modified organisms (GMOs) if they became a problem.

Additionally, as in computers, updates would be needed at some points and that would also be possible with our strategy.

[1] Gardner TS, Cantor CR, Collins JJ. (2000) Construction of a genetic toggle switch in Escherichia coli. Nature. 403(6767):339-42.
[2] Siuti P, Yazbek J, Lu TK. (2013) Synthetic circuits integrating logic and memory in living cells. Nat Biotechnol. 31(5):448-52.
[3] Bennett MR, Hasty J. (2009) Overpowering the component problem. Nat Biotechnol. 27(5): 450–451.
[4] Holt TJ, Schell BH. (2013) Hackers and Hacking: A Reference Handbook. ABC-CLIO, LLC. 344.

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