New programming language will drive DNA

Bioinformatics scientists have built two logic gates for what they hope will become a new programming language for drug design as well as chemical and agricultural product engineering. The accomplishment seems hardly noteworthy except that these logic gates are made of E. coli.

The two computational switches are based on two strains of the common bacterium. Researchers are now working to assemble them to perform computations.

This genetic programming software would resemble any other programming language, says Kevin Clancy, senior staff scientist for bioinformatics at Life Technologies Corp. The Carlsbad, CA, company is funding the work, which is being done by researchers at the UC San Francisco School of Pharmacy. Life Tech plans to commercialize the technology.

The software would convert instructions into a DNA sequence to be inserted into a bacterial, yeast or mammal cell. "It allows you to access and rewire biological systems on a scale that hasn't been possible in genetic engineering to date," says Christopher Voigt, UCSF associate professor.

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