The Future Of Engineering Devices, Systems And Materials All Made From Bacteria (7/4/2007)
Members of the public will get to see how revolutionary scientists and engineers are proposing to make counters, sensors, calculators and other devices out of living bacteria at this year's Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition.
|The emerging field of synthetic biology sees scientists and enginners working together, modifying bacterial DNA to produce engineering parts. - Photo Credit: Imperial College London|
The researchers from Imperial College London will be manning a stand which will allow exhibition visitors to find out more about the brand new science of 'synthetic biology.' Posters and interactive computer stands will describe how pioneering researchers at Imperial are modifying DNA, which is then put into e-coli bacteria cells, to make living devices that do not exist in the natural world.
Visitors will also have the chance to move Lego 'BioBricks' – representing strands of DNA that instruct a cell to behave in a certain way – around a giant replica e-coli cell that has been chopped in half, mimicking the work of the researchers.
Professor Richard Kitney Opens in new window from Imperial's Department of Bioengineering, one of the senior synthetic biology researchers at the College, explains: "By putting together different 'BioBricks', scientists can create new devices and may in the future be able to build living machines. Synthetic biology is a new and very exciting field. It has an incredible amount of potential to change our daily lives. New materials such as for cars and aircraft, computers, building materials, medicines – so many things could be improved by modifying and recombining DNA."
This new, emerging area of science is in its early stages and is being worked on by a team of 30 engineers and scientists at Imperial. They, and other teams at universities around the world, are producing a catalogue of BioBricks, and have successfully completed 800 so far. The Imperial team has already successfully produced a bacterial oscillator and is working on a bacterial NAND gate – both of which are vital components of a basic computer.
Professor Kitney anticipates rapid progression in the field. "I think within two to three years we will see a counting device made from bacteria with modified DNA. And then moving on from this the next step would be a more complicated calculator. Obviously, in the long run, we are looking at using this technology to create biologically-based 'computers' that can survive in environments where traditional computers cannot; such as at the bottom of the ocean or inside a human cell."
Synthetic biology research at Imperial will play a significant role in the recently-launched Institute of Systems Biology which will bring together the College's engineers, mathematicians and physical scientists to work on a number of different projects. From October 2008, undergraduate students studying biology or bioengineering at Imperial will be able to elect to take a module in synthetic biology.
The Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition is held annually at the Royal Society, the UK's national academy of science. The event is free and open to the public. This year, 23 interactive exhibits will be on show presenting the best of UK science, engineering and technology. During the four days of the event, more than 4,000 people are expected to take up the opportunity to explore the exhibition.
Note: This story has been adapted from a news release issued by Imperial College London