Creating a Community of Co-Dependent Microbes

October
2015

Synthetic biology — an emerging field that attempts to completely reengineer biological organisms — has focused mainly on creating genetic circuits to control individual organisms. As the field progresses toward more-complex organisms to address increasingly complex problems, there will be a need to engineer multicellular communities in which the cells can communicate and cooperate with each other.

Scientists at Rice Univ. have taken a step in that direction by creating a community of two different kinds of cells that communicate with one another and form a feedback loop. Cells of one type tell cells of the second type to do something, and the latters’ response causes the first cells to perform their tasks. The co-dependent community, the most complex built so far, not only serves as a proof-of- concept in an emerging field, but it also provides practical insight into how such a system operates.

“The main push in synthetic biology has been to engineer single cells,” says Matthew Bennett, an assistant professor of biosciences at Rice. “But now we’re moving toward multicellular systems. We want cells to coordinate their behaviors to...

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