Living computers: RNA circuits transform cells into nanodevices

The interdisciplinary nexus of biology and engineering, known as synthetic biology, is growing at a rapid pace, opening new vistas that could scarcely be imagined a short time ago.

In new research, Alex Green, a professor at ASU’s Biodesign Institute, demonstrates how living cells can be induced to carry out computations in the manner of tiny robots or computers.

The results of the new study have significant implications for intelligent drug design and smart drug delivery, green energy production, low-cost diagnostic technologies and even the development of futuristic nanomachines capable of hunting down cancer cells or switching off aberrant genes.

“We’re using very predictable and programmable RNA-RNA interactions to define what these circuits can do,” says Green. “That means we can use computer software to design RNA sequences that behave the way we want them to in a cell. It makes the design process a lot faster.”

The study appears in the advance online edition of the journal Nature.

Designer RNA

The approach described uses circuits composed of ribonucleic acid or RNA. These circuit designs, which resemble conventional electronic circuits, self-assemble in bacterial cells, allowing them to sense incoming messages