Bacterial cells commonly act as little machines in the lab of a bioresearcher. Some fluoresce as they bind to certain particles, others change color based on the presence of a certain chemical in solution. Useful as these cells are, they are generally pre-set; each lab has to find one that does the necessary job or wait for one to be discovered. Now the wait is over – thanks to a research team at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, where programmable bacterial cells are quickly becoming a reality.
The implications of programmable cells are incredibly large. For instance, one could program a cell to turn purple in the presence of quicksilver or seek out cancer cells. "Our project breaks new ground," says Drew Dunham (left), one of the researchers on the Michigan Synthetic Biology Team. "Scientists can program the bacteria to use signals in their environment as inputs and express different outputs depending on that input," he elaborates in a recent news release. This means that a given lab can customize their own type of cell to do exactly the job they need.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the programmable cell project is the demographic of the researchers themselves. For instance, Drew Dunham is an undergraduate studying microbiology. The Michigan Synthetic Biology Team is entirely made up of undergraduates and is led by Marc Ammerlaan (right) of the Department of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology. But Ammerlaan is quick to remind that "I don't tell them the science. I drive the car and they do all the work.” The students have qualified for the International Genetically Engineered Machine Competition at MIT twice now, and Ammarlaan believes it’s only a matter of time until they take the gold medal there.
In addition to advancing research technologies, the MSBT works to spread the word about synthetic biology and dissipate some of the negative stigma that so often comes with biotechnological pursuits. To that end, they have developed an excellent educational video game that follows the life of a plasmid through DNA splicing and recombining. It’s a fairly addicting game that explains the process very well.
(A screenshot from Plasmid Paul, courtesy MSBT. The player controls the small purple ring, known as Paul.)
The University of Michigan endowment has reached $8.4 billion for this fiscal year, which is a record high for the university. The U-M endowment is ranked as the second largest endowment in the nation among public universities and the seventh largest among all U.S. universities, according to this U-M article. For more detailed funding statistics regarding the University of Michigan, read on with our Funding Statistics and Vendor Show Info report:
Biotechnology Calendar, Inc. pays a visit to the University of Michigan each year for its Ann Arbor BioResearch Product Faire™ held annually. The next such show will be held on July 24th, 2014. Biotechnology Calendar is a full service event company that has produced on-campus, life science research trade shows nationwide for the past 20 years. We plan and promote each event to bring the best products and services to the finest research campuses across the country. If you are a university researcher or a laboratory product vendor, consider attending one of our on-campus trade shows; click below to reserve space at the Ann Arbor show or have a look at our 2014 schedule.