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Genetic clock makers at UC San Diego publish their 'timepiece' in Nature
Date:10/29/2008

UC San Diego bioengineers have created the first stable, fast and programmable genetic clock that reliably keeps time by the blinking of fluorescent proteins inside E. coli cells. The clock's blink rate changes when the temperature, energy source or other environmental conditions change, a fact that could lead to new kinds of sensors that convey information about the environment through the blinking rate.

The researchers published their synthetic biology advance in the journal Nature on 29 October, 2008.

One next step is to synchronize the clocks within large numbers of E. coli cells so that all the cells in a test tube would blink in unison. "This would start to look a lot like the makings of a fascinating environmental sensor," said Jeff Hasty, a UC San Diego bioengineering professor and senior author on the Nature paper. Researchers in his lab have also developed sophisticated microfluidic systems capable of controlling environmental conditions of their E. coli cells with great precision. This enables the bioengineers to track exactly what environmental conditions affect their clocks' blink rates.

Synthetic Biology

A three-step approach to synthetic biology provides the foundation for Jeff Hasty's Systems Biodynamics Lab at UC San Diego. You first write down computational models for a particular system, such as a genetic clock, and then you develop design criteria from these models. Finally, you build gene networks based on these design criteriaand see if these networks behave as the models predict.

"Instead of just iterating forever and trying to figure it out that way, we try to codify our ideas into a computational model and use that model to generate design criteria and then build the gene networks based on what we learned through the process," explained Scott Cookson, an author on the new Nature paper and a Ph.D. student in Hasty's lab.

Hasty has bee
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Contact: Daniel Kane
dbkane@ucsd.edu
858-534-3262
University of California - San Diego
Source:Eurekalert  

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