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NIH backs Rice University study of delay in gene transcription networks
Date:8/14/2012

A Rice University researcher and his colleagues have received a National Institutes of Health grant to see how delays in gene transcription life's most basic messaging system affect cellular processes.

Matthew Bennett, an assistant professor of biochemistry and cell biology, will receive more than a million dollars over five years to gather and combine data from computer simulations and live cells. The goal is to create techniques to generate and analyze models of gene networks that incorporate delay as part of their process.

"Delay in transcriptional signaling is an unavoidable consequence of the way biochemistry works," said Bennett, a theoretical physicist by training who turned to synthetic biology as a postdoctoral researcher before joining Rice in 2009. "Once a gene is activated, often as a response to a molecule being introduced into the cell, it takes time for the results to come to fruition. Eventually the DNA must be transcribed into RNA, and the RNA must be translated into protein. Then, sometimes, the protein has to be modified or has to fold."

Bennett and his team want to know precisely what happens and why in that cascade of events, which can take minutes. "We want to be able to create accurate mathematical models of gene networks in order to predict how they function and how they fail, so we can design new synthetic networks and know what they're going to do before we build them," he said.

Synthetic biology has become an increasingly hot topic as researchers create biological systems not found in nature. (A leader in the field, J. Craig Venter, will speak at Rice on Oct. 10 as part of the university's Centennial Celebration.)

Bennett sees the process as similar to sophisticated electronic design, in which the genetic equivalent of logic gates can be used to program circuit-like behavior in living things. The resulting genomes can be used in cells for information processing, materials fabrication, che
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Contact: David Ruth
david@rice.edu
713-348-6327
Rice University
Source:Eurekalert

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