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Engineers Craft Language to Build Synthetic DNA

According to a report found in Nature Nanotechnology recently, engineers have created a new programming language that may make it possible to create synthetic DNA. The scientists behind this study state that it is very similar to creating a programming language like Perl or Java that writes code for a computer, but this new language will be able to “program” how different DNA molecules interact within a test tube, or even within a human cell.

The University of Washington is behind this study that set out to create a new programming language for chemistry. The researchers involved in the study hope that someday their advances will enable the use of “smart” drug deliverers or even be able to create “disease detectors” within the human body.  They compared it to the way that sensors currently work in vehicles and are programmed to sense whether a tire is low and send an alert to the driver. This new programming language will be designed to work in much the same way.

Georg Seelig, one of the authors of the research at the University of Washington commented, “We start from an abstract, mathematical description of a chemical system, and then use DNA to build the molecules that realize the desired dynamics. The vision is that eventually, you can use this technology to build general-purpose tools.” Seelig is an assist professor of electrical engineering and computer science/engineering.

This is big news for those involved in the medical engineering field. The potential to be able to create new ways to heal the body or prevent illness offers engineers a very interesting way to impact the future of humanity. While there are still many changes that need to be made in order for this to be of use to humans every day, great strides are being made by the University of Washington in this study.

Currently, the process of engineering a molecular network is time consuming and very cumbersome. If one change needs to be made, the entire thing has to be rebuilt. With this new programming language, it may become possible to entirely change the molecular network with just some simple code.

Seelig continued, “I think this is appealing because it allows you to solve more than one problem. If you want a computer to do something else, you just reprogram it. This project is very similar in that we can tell chemistry what to do.”  The team at the University of Washington recently received a $2 million grant from the National Science Foundation to continue their research as they search for new ways to apply this new programming language to medical science.

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