Bio-engineers are harnessing the key attibutes of a virus, M13, such as
its ability to package and broadcast arbitrary DNA strands, to create
the first biological internet or 'Bi-Fi.'
Monica Ortiz and Drew Endy from Stanford University have created a
biological mechanism to send genetic messages from cell to cell.
system boosts the complexity and amount of data that can be
communicated between cells and could lead to greater control of
biological functions within cell communities, the Journal of Biological
Biological internet could lead to
biosynthetic factories in which huge masses of microbes collaborate to
make more complicated fuels, pharmaceuticals and other useful chemicals,
including the regeneration of tissue or organs in future, according to a
Ortiz was even able to broadcast her genetic
messages between cells separated by a gelatinous medium at a distance
greater than seven centimetres.
"That's very long-range communication, cellularly speaking," she said.
is a packager of genetic messages. It reproduces within its host,
taking strands of DNA strands that engineers can control wrapping them
up one by one and sending them out encapsulated within proteins produced
by M13 that can infect other cells.
Once inside the new hosts,
they release the packaged DNA message. The M13-based system is
essentially a communication channel. It acts like a wireless Internet
connection that enables cells to send or receive messages, but it does
not care what secrets the transmitted messages contain.
we've separated the message from the channel. We can now send any DNA
message we want to specific cells within a complex microbial community,"
said Ortiz, who led the study.
It is well-known that cells
naturally use various mechanisms, including chemicals, to communicate,
but such messaging can be extremely limited in both complexity and
Simple chemical signals are typically both message and messenger two functions that cannot be separated.
your network connection is based on sugar then your messages are
limited to 'more sugar,' 'less sugar,' or 'no sugar'" explained Endy.
engineered with M13 can be programmed to communicate in much more
complex, powerful ways than ever before. In harnessing DNA for cell-cell
messaging the researchers have also greatly increased the amount of
data they can transmit at any one time. In digital terms, they have
increased the bit rate of their system.