Synthetic biological “machines” to detect disease and combat bacterial infections are being researched at a new UK centre funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).
The development of cellular micro-processors will focus on biologically-based electronic devices that may be inserted into the body to monitor health or detect cancer.
Another application for the new Centre for Synthetic Biology and Innovation is a sensor that can recognise a molecule released when bacteria colonise a surface.
This might be used in the food and healthcare industries to signal what type of bacteria it is – such as E-coli or MRSA – and enable staff to quickly take action.
Professor Paul Freemont said that in the next 20 to 50 years, research will provide synthetic biology techniques that have the precision of electronics.
He said: “Our understanding of how living cells work isn’t as good as our understanding of electronic devices. We want to get to the stage where we’ve got all the parts we need to build any biological machine that we want.”
The centre will initially concentrate on standard systems and specifications to create these parts by modifying DNA, inserting it into cells and cataloguing what the cells do.
Copyright Press Association 2008