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This Week in Nature: Mar 13, 2014

In this week's Nature, researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison present a review of the development of microfluidics and offer perspectives on how such technologies might be used to improve diagnostics and biology research. They detail progress made by lab-on-a-chip microtechnologies and discuss the areas where they have had the greatest impact, while touching on future paths of development. "A key consideration in the development of new microfluidic methods in academic research should be whether the use of microfluidics introduces truly enabling functionality compared to current methods," the trio adds. "When a potential application passes this test, the chances of contributing useful technology to the field are substantially higher."

Meanwhile, in Nature Methods, a group from Rice University reports a new technique for programming gene expression signals in live bacteria. The team designed pre-computed light sequences based on experimentally calibrated mathematical models of light-switchable, two-component systems and used them to drive intracellular protein levels to match user-defined reference time courses. This method was used to accurately and precisely generate accelerated and linearized dynamics, sinusoidal oscillations with desired amplitudes and periods, and a complex waveform. The researchers also combined the function generator with a dual fluorescent protein reporter system — which they say is analogous to a dual-channel oscilloscope — to find that the synthetic repressible promoter linearly transforms repressor signals with about a seven-minute delay. "In principle, our method could be used to study virtually any biological process that is dynamically affected by gene expression," the researchers add.