PerspectiveSynthetic Biology

Programming cells and tissues

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Science  21 Sep 2018:
Vol. 361, Issue 6408, pp. 1199-1200
DOI: 10.1126/science.aav2497

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The field of synthetic biology envisions designing genetic circuits to program cells and tissues. These circuits will enable cells to detect disease states and act to remedy them, direct cells to produce useful substances and materials, and even allow cells to self-assemble into new, user-defined tissues (1). Starting from circuits comprised of a few components (2, 3), registries of biological parts have been curated, and increasingly larger circuits have been engineered in cells (4), but the size and capabilities of these circuits have been limited. A key challenge to engineering larger systems is composability: the ability to connect any two parts and achieve predictable behavior. On page 1252 of this issue, Gao et al. (5) describe a composable protein-based system for building circuits, and on page 1217, Andrews et al. (6) describe a sequential logic system with many states. Recently, Toda et al. (7) used synthetic cellcell signaling to drive differentiation and adhesion to form prototype tissues. These studies demonstrate that careful attention to composability can expand synthetic biology beyond its traditional limits.