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Cell By Design

A team of synthetic biologists has developed a programming language dubbed Cello that can be used to design computational circuits for living cells.

"This paper solves the problem of the automated design, construction, and testing of logic circuits in living cells," Herbert Sauro from the University of Washington in Seattle, who was not involved in the study, tells Nature News.

As Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Christopher Voigt and his colleagues report in Science this week, when users write Verlog code in Cello, it is transformed into a DNA sequence. They tested this approach by designing 60 circuits for Escherichia coli to find that 45 of those worked properly in every output state.

Voigt tells Nature News that it would take about a week to design 60 circuits using Cello, whereas it took a postdoc three years to design, test, and build one that was then published in a 2012 paper.

The University of California, Berkeley's Adam Arkin adds that a tool like Cello moves the field closer to its goal of using engineering principles to design biological circuits. "What is wonderful is seeing the original conception of synthetic biology — to build the infrastructure to make the engineering of new biological function vastly more efficient, predictable, transparent and safe — come to fruition in such powerful computational tools and biological reagents," he tells Nature News.