Tiny packets filled with the molecular machinery needed to turn DNA into proteins enables the biosynthesis of drugs without specialized equipment and refrigeration.
Biosynthesis — the production of molecules within living cells and organisms — is becoming an increasingly powerful method for manufacturing drugs and protein therapeutics. Challenges, however, prevent the widespread use of this technique. Specialized skills are required to manipulate the living cells, which typically can only be done in a laboratory setting. The use of living cells to operate the genetic programs at the heart of biosynthesis also brings with it biosafety regulations and other practical hurdles.
Developed by engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the tiny pellets are, in effect, a portable system for performing synthetic biology — the application of engineering design principles to molecular biology to build genetic devices. However, no cells are required. Instead, the engineers have freeze-dried enzymes, RNA, and other cellular machinery, which can then be put to work to create vaccines, antimicrobials, and other pharmaceutical compounds with the addition of DNA and water.
“It’s a modular system that can be programmed to make what you need, on the spot,” says James Collins, the Termeer Professor of Bioengineering in MIT’s Dept. of Biological Engineering and Institute for Medical Engineering and Science...
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