According to Phys, MIT biological engineers have created a programming language that, once compiled, turns into a DNA sequence. The DNA sequence is then put into a cell and "the circuit runs inside the cell."
The language is based on Verilog, which is commonly used to program computer chips. To create a version of the language that would work for cells, the researchers designed computing elements such as logic gates and sensors that can be encoded in a bacterial cell's DNA. The sensors can detect different compounds, such as oxygen or glucose, as well as light, temperature, acidity, and other environmental conditions. Users can also add their own sensors. "It's very customizable," Voigt says.
The biggest challenge, he says, was designing the 14 logic gates used in the circuits so that they wouldn't interfere with each other once placed in the complex environment of a living cell.
In the current version of the programming language, these genetic parts are optimized for E. coli, but the researchers are working on expanding the language for other strains of bacteria, including Bacteroides, commonly found in the human gut, and Pseudomonas, which often lives in plant roots, as well as the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae. This would allow users to write a single program and then compile it for different organisms to get the right DNA sequence for each one.
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