HOUSTON (Jan. 7, 2014) Genetic systems run like clockwork, attuned to temperature, time of day and many other factors as they regulate living organisms. Scientists at Rice University and the University of Houston have opened a window onto one aspect of the process that has confounded researchers for decades: the mechanism by which genetic regulators adjust to changing temperature.
Until now, synthetic biologists have not been able to duplicate this marvel, but Rice biochemist Matthew Bennett and his team developed a robust synthetic genetic clock that allows Escherichia coli bacteria to accurately keep time in a wide temperature range. The clock, which regulates the production of proteins, does not speed up or slow down with changing temperatures, and offers one possible solution to a problem that has hindered the advance of synthetic biology.
The results were published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The revelation will be of interest to biologists who study regulatory systems, particularly circadian rhythms, but it may be most valuable to synthetic biologists who wish to reprogram cellular regulatory mechanisms for biotechnology, Bennett said.
"One of the problems we've had is that the genetic circuits we build are fragile," he said. "We can build systems that do what we want, but they often do not work well in other people's hands, or if we change the media or temperature. We wanted to create a system that should work independently of the parameters that might be hard for a synthetic biologist to control. We want to show we can build robust circuits, not just by making the architecture of the system more complicated, but by using the right proteins."
The ability to regulate for temperature comes naturally in mammals, but not all life is warm-blooded, and temperature generally affects biochemistry.
"The warmer things are, the more biochemistry speed
|Contact: Jeff Falk|