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Biological Chemistry

Factory-Style RNA Engineering

Computer-aided design route to gene -expression control

by Stu Borman
January 2, 2012 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 90, Issue 1

Researchers have devised a systematic way to engineer RNA complexes to control bacterial gene expression. RNA sequences called riboswitches found on mRNAs respond to ligand binding by influencing levels of protein translation of their associated mRNAs. Now, Jay D. Keasling of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of California, Berkeley, and coworkers have automated the process of designing such regulatory systems (Science, DOI: 10.1126/science.1212209). They used biochemical modeling, an optimization algorithm, and kinetic RNA folding simulations to design 28 “RNA devices” with highly predictable levels of control over gene expression in bacteria. “Ultimately, this could lead to a full-fledged computer-automated design platform for creating and debugging RNA-based control systems that can ... coordinate the timing and expression levels of very large numbers of genes,” says team member James M. Carothers. The work “is one of the first true examples of engineering gene expression control in a rational way,” comments Andrew Ellington of the University of Texas, Austin. “It may herald a much brighter future for synthetic biology.”


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