PerspectiveSynthetic Biology

Designer sense-response systems

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Science  22 Nov 2019:
Vol. 366, Issue 6468, pp. 952-953
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaz8085

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Summary

Cells adapt to their changing environment to survive and grow. This requires the ability to sense and respond to chemical cues, such as changes in nutrient availability or signals from other cells. Biological sensing and response systems often involve networks of protein-protein interactions that transmit a signal triggered by molecular recognition of a specific chemical, ultimately resulting in adjustments to the cellular biochemistry. If it were possible to design protein pairs the interaction of which is mediated by the binding of a target small molecule, in turn resulting in a downstream cellular response, this would open the door to the creation of customizable biological sensors and actuators for a variety of medical and biotechnological applications. On page 1024 of this issue, Glasgow et al. (1) report a computational procedure for the design of modular sense-response systems based on protein complexes that can detect and respond to a user-defined small molecule.

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