Pai and scientist Lingchong You, assistant professor of biomedical engineering and a member of Duke's Institute for Genome Sciences & Policy and Center for Systems Biology, have discovered what they believe is a common root among the different forms of quorum sensing. In an article in the July 2009 issue of the journal Molecular Systems Biology, they term this process "sensing potential."
"Sensing potential is essentially the linking of an action to the number of cells and the size of their environment," You said. "For example, a small number of cells would act differently than the same number of cells in a much larger space. No matter what type of cell or their own quorum sensing abilities, the relationship between the size of a cell and the size of its environment is the common thread we see in all quorum sensing systems.
"This analysis provides novel insights into the fundamental design of quorum sensing systems," You said. "Also, the overall framework we defined can serve as a foundation for studying the dynamics and the evolution of quorum sensing, as well as for engineering synthetic gene circuits based on cell-to-cell communications."
Synthetic gene circuits are carefully designed combinations of genes that can be "loaded" into bacteria or other cells to direct their actions in much the same way that a basic computer program directs a computer. Such re-programmed bacteria would exist as a synthetic ecosystem.
"Each population will synthesize a subset of enzymes that are required for the population as a whole to produce desired proteins or chemicals in a coordinated way," You said. "We may even be able to re-engineer bacteria to deliver different types of drugs or selectively kill cancer cells"
For example, You has already gained insights into the relationship between predators and prey by creating a synthetic circuit involving two genetically altered lines
|Contact: Richard Merritt|