Scientists work on biological cell-equivalent of computer

Scientists at Nottingham University are leading a research project to develop a biological cell-equivalent of a computer operating system.

Prof Natalio Krasnogor, who leads the Interdisciplinary Computing and Complex Systems Research Group, said: ’We are looking at creating a cell’s equivalent to a computer operating system in such a way that a given group of cells could be seamlessly re-programmed to perform any function without needing to modifying its hardware.’

The technology could accelerate synthetic biology research and development, which has been linked to myriad applications — from the creation of new sources of food and environmental solutions to medical breakthroughs such as drugs tailored to individual patients and the growth of organs for transplant patients.

’We are talking about a highly ambitious goal leading to a fundamental breakthrough that will ultimately, allow us to rapidly prototype, implement and deploy living entities that are completely new and do not appear in nature, adapting them so they perform new useful functions,’ said Krasnogor in a statement. ’Currently, each time we need a cell that will perform a certain new function we have to recreate it from scratch, which is a long and laborious process.’

The creation of more sophisticated computer modelling programmes and a cell that could be re-programmed to fulfil any function could largely remove the trial-and-error approach currently taken and allow synthetic biology research to take a significant leap forward.

The multi-disciplinary project, funded with a leadership fellowship for Prof Krasnogor worth more than £1m from EPSRC, involves computer scientists, biologists and chemists from Nottingham, as well as academic colleagues at other universities in Scotland, the US, Spain and Israel.