Computer-Controlled Cyborg Yeast: Technology Meets Biology

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There is very little that we can control within our bodies. We are for the most part limited to controlling what we eat or drink, what medicines we take, and the movement of our muscles. But we can't control our cells. This may all change, though: Recent scientific research has created a way to control some cells with computers to make them do what we want.

Scientists at ETH Zurich and the University of California, San Francisco have created cyborg cells of Saccharomyces cerevisiae (brewer’s yeast) that can be switched on or off. Using light, the scientists could turn on the yeast to allow it to produce a specific protein called phytochrome that regulates gene expression. They also introduced a cyborg reporter molecule to keep track of the yeast’s activity.

Basically, they were able to take control of the yeast so that it did what they wanted it to do. Their findings have been published in the journal Nature Biotechnology.

The implications of this technology are pretty great; the scientists write that “moving control functions outside the cell should enable more sophisticated manipulation of cellular processes”. This kind of control may allow us to one day have the ability to control many types of cells within our own bodies. Perhaps we could even stop cell and DNA mutations, which can cause genetic defects and cancers.

Gizmodo pointed out that this technology could be used to brew the perfect beer, because the scientists used brewer’s yeast and could control how the yeast works. Mmm.

While fool-proof beer would be great, I personally look forward to the day that this type of technology can be used to help with genetic mutations and medical conditions.

[Popular Science, Gizmodo, Nature Biotechnology / Photo: bill rix on Flickr (CC BY-SA)]

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