Missouri Western State University and Davidson College in North Carolina, scientists have developed 'bacterial computers' that can revolutionize genetic research.
The research team including four faculty members and 15 undergraduate students from the biology and mathematics departments engineered the DNA of Escherichia coli bacteria and created bacterial computers capable of solving a classic mathematical problem known as the Hamiltonian Path Problem.
They modified the genetic circuitry of the bacteria to enable them to find a Hamiltonian path in a three-node graph.
Bacteria that successfully solved the problem reported their success by fluorescing both red and green, resulting in yellow colonies.
The study demonstrates that computing in living cells is feasible.
Synthetic biology is the use of molecular biology techniques, engineering principles, and mathematical modeling to design and construct genetic circuits that enable living cells to carry out novel functions.
"Our research contributed more than 60 parts to the Registry of Standard Biological Parts, which are available for use by the larger synthetic biology community, including the newly split red fluorescent protein and green fluorescent protein genes," said Jordan Baumgardner, recent graduate of Missouri Western and first author of the research paper.
"The research provides yet another example of how powerful and dynamic synthetic biology can be. We used synthetic biology to solve mathematical problems; others find applications in medicine, energy and the environment. Synthetic biology has great potential in the real world," he added.
According to Dr. Eckdahl, the corresponding author of the article, synthetic biology affords a new opportunity for multidisciplinary undergraduate research training.
"We have found synthetic biology to be an excellent way to engage students in research that connects biology and mathematics. Our students learn firsthand the value of crossing traditional disciplinary lines," Eckdahl added.
The study appears in BioMed Central's open access Journal of Biological Engineering.