Synthetic cells: A path towards curing diseases

Synthetic cells: A path towards curing diseases

Synthetic biology allows scientists to use the concept of both engineering and molecular biology to successfully change the molecular construction of a cell. Using different viruses to get the modification done, they get the cell to act in the desired manner. These re-engineering methods can help treat diseases such as cancer and diabetes, but for a long time, it was unknown, as to how to assure that the re-engineering provides the same result in all cells.


However, in 2018, a Northeastern University professor, Professor Eduardo Sontag, came up with a synthetic biology technique, that would do away with this uncertainty. Professor Eduardo Sontag had compared the process to a thermostat. He said that a cell which was synthetically modified would work according to the conditions, just like how a thermostat does, if it senses that the room is too hot, it turns on the air conditioner and if the room is too cold, then the heater.

So how does it work?

To modify cells, researchers make use of viruses. The problem is, the virus affects the cell in a variable manner, and therefore the result is unpredictable.  Professor Sontag solved this challenge with the new method he came up with. “If you’re planting seeds and you don’t want too many plants in one place, you’d like to have everything be uniformly distributed,”  is what the professor said to explain his ideology. He explained that when the cell is infected with the virus, genes present within the cell would itself measure up to its surroundings and therefore, the resulting behavior would always remain the same.


This research has helped the field of synthetic biology to a great extent. Scientists look forward to treating a variety of diseases, like Type 1 diabetes, in which the body wrongly destroys beta cells, which produces insulin. By using synthetic biology, scientists can re-engineer cells in a fashion that would make them keep a track of themselves and divide when they sense that their population is sinking.


Teena Rose Tom

Teena Tom

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