Forget diamonds, you’re destined to be a robot.
Researchers from Queen Mary, University of London are developing a range of invisible electronics made up of human DNA that could one day be used to target cancer and other diseases.Researchers are helping untangle more than 100 genes from the world’s genome, including some linked to cancer
Teams in London have used DNA extracted from a partner bacterium to make 3D-printed, adhesive-free devices that are based on synthetic human DNA with a genetic code which can be inserted onto artificial devices when implants are needed.
These units are aimed at developing biological implants and in-vitro fertilisation treatments for treating tumors.
The engineering is ‘a fascinating and long-anticipated ‘ new field that is difficult to predict, address and carry out fully due to the asymmetric structure of the genome’, said Simon Croft, who heads the Lister Institute for Functional Genomics at Queen Mary, University of London.
Project leaders said they were exploring ideas including probes for testing DNA variants and implants based on human breast, cervical and ovarian cancer genes, Dr Croft said.
The fast-expanding field of synthetic biology is a new way of designing and engineering devices that behave like synthetic DNA.
“In deep research into how that does work, we have been able to understand two major innovations. First, what you are talking about is the number of genetic bits in each experiment on humans and how many bits can you get. It’s very different to how we think of DNA codes in terms of content.
“Secondly, you can also ask the question about how you are thinking about the bioengineered cancer,” Dr Croft said.
Scientists are using DNA to study diseases such as cystic fibrosis and previously used a more direct method of inserting bugs into cells to test a gene implicated in cancer.A scan of an organism using the DNA droplet seen in front of the human eye
To implant the tissue with the genes and to stimulate the tumor cells to grow, researchers in Jordan used synthetic DNA to study worms and human placentas.
With both the worms and the cells growing in response to a virus, the researchers believe their initial work could be used to study how to repair tumors or to make new drugs that replace diseased cells.
The scientists have been working on the question of how to implant human DNA while maintaining the integrity of the genome.
The technique is far more complex than the role of genes naturally or genes within cells, Dr Croft said.
To create the implants, scientists need to edit genes which are part of the genome. This involves reconstituting genes to replace the missing or removed ones.
By making cells more transparent or enabling programmed cell division, scientists are able to improve the quality of the DNA components while maintaining the integrity of the genome, Dr Croft said.
“What you find in this method of transforming DNA is that you can make all the elements that would normally contain an individual piece of DNA into it. And that is pretty amazing.”
Scientists hope the technology could one day be used to build artificial “hands” that would trigger electrical signals, if implanted in someone with prostate cancer, he said.
“When you have a cancer diagnosis, there are quite extensive issues around implants that could potentially be out there right now.”
Of course, Dr Croft said, ‘it does require these synthetic DNA or artificial DNA facilities to work, but those are difficult problems, and a tough first few years for developing this kind of technology because in certain parts of the human genome they can’t be fixed that easily.
“But so far we can see applications of this technology using this kind of artificial DNA system that we are definitely working on,” he said.