Scientists have succeeded in forming a "feedback loop" between a computer and a common yeast to precisely control the switching on and off of specific genes.Go read the whole article to get all the details.
The computer controlled flashes of light to start and stop this gene expression, "learning" how to reach and maintain a set value.
The groundbreaking approach could find use in future efforts to control biological processes, such as the production of biofuel from microbes.
It appears in Nature Biotechnology.
The approach is a comparatively simple means to take control of fantastically complex biochemical processes to achieve a desired result.
"The neat thing about this is that there are many people who have tried to do things like this by, for example, coding in the cell itself a synthetic circuit, putting genes and mechanisms in the cell," said senior author John Lygeros, of the Automatic Control Laboratory at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich.
"That's had limited success up to now."
"It's quite difficult to engineer synthetic circuits that do something robustly in the cell, and the hope is that by augmenting this with external signals, you can get them to behave better," he said.
"That for example may have applications in biofuel production, or antibiotic production, where they use genetically engineered organisms to increase the yields of reactions."
This is a big step into "the future". I can foresee all kinds of new production and processing done using biological techniques. Chemists must be licking their chops with visions of gearing up to produce all kinds of hard-to-make molecules.
This is a huge step into the nano world with a wonderful new control technique. This isn't the grey goo doomsday scare story that the anti-technologists love to trot out. This is a technique that gives very precise control at human scale to nano processing.