The Game of Life, On Life

i-3020c830e6478ec2df7d9c7818defc99-220px-UT_HelloWorld-thumb-250x245-47451.jpgLight interacts with and controls biological systems in diverse and fascinating ways. Our eyes are made up of thousands of cells that respond to light, sending signals to our brain as light in different colors and shapes moves across them. Photosynthetic cells are full of receptors that can sense and respond to many wavelengths of light, allowing cells to absorb light for photosynthesis, but also to move towards areas of more sunlight and know when the seasons are changing. Synthetic biology takes these light-responsive systems as parts that can be recombined, shuffled and integrated into other systems to create novel biological behaviors. Biological engineers have designed bacteria that respond to light and turn color, essentially making living film (pictured on the right), while others have engineered neurons to fire when illuminated with a laser.

These examples use proteins that are stuck on the cell membrane, activating cascades inside the cell when light shines on them. Through clever engineering, the surface proteins can be made to activate an arbitrary interior cascade, allowing light to control whatever biological process the engineer chooses. Other cellular light-responsive systems that have become popular in synthetic biology more recently (featured in both the Harvard and MIT iGEM projects last summer) involve proteins from inside plant cells that change shape depending on the wavelength of light shining on them. Under red light, PhyB can bind very tightly to its partner protein, PIF. When the red light switches to infrared, PhyB changes shape and PIF falls off. These light-switchable proteins can be fused to other proteins that will be brought along for the ride.

An awesome paper from the Cell Propulsion Lab at UCSF last year demonstrated some of the amazing things that can happen when you engineer these systems in living cells. They fused PhyB to a protein that is always attached to the membrane, and PIF to a yellow fluorescent protein. When they shined a red laser on a cell expressing these fusion proteins, they could watch the fluorescent protein become stuck to the membrane and then falling off in infrared light using a fluorescence microscope. The binding was engineered to be so tight and the switching so fast, they were able to display Conway's game of life on the surface of a single mouse cell by alternately shining lasers and infrared light on specific "pixels," patches on the membrane surface just microns across. The videos are available in the supplementary info without a subscription and they are really incredible:

They went on to fuse proteins that affect the crawling motion of cells to PhyB and PIF, creating cells that could crawl along a slide following a laser pointer. The ability to control complex cellular behaviors with simple inputs is amazing and incredibly powerful, allowing us to easily and tightly control novel biological behaviors to create potentially useful things and, importantly, to better understand how biology works.


More like this

Carboxysomes are small compartments inside photosynthetic bacteria where the machinery for capturing carbon dioxide is concentrated. You can see carboxysomes and their characteristic virus-like shape when you look at slices of these bacteria under an electron microscope: Until recently, no one had…
Symbiosis is everywhere. From the Greek for "living with," symbiosis is simply a close association between two different species in nature. These relationships can be mutualistic, parasitic, or somewhere in between. Bacterial symbionts live inside bodies, like the bacteria that help us and other…
MAGNETIC nanoparticles targeted to nerve cell membranes can be used to remotely control cellular activity and even the simple reflex behaviours of nematode worms, according to research by a team of biophysicists at the University of Buffalo. The new method, which is described in the journal Nature…
Evolution connects all living things on earth, from the arsenic tolerant bacteria in the news this week to the human scientists and bloggers chatting about it. Eyes are intricately complex structures made up of many many cells, but even single-celled microbes can sense and respond to light through…

Alright, u ready?

670 million mph - how does that feel?
again again
wack wack
trillions of these bad boys are hitting your two 1/8th inch holes as you read my post.. your face is literally getting wacked this instant.
Think about the momentum.
How crazy would it be if photons had mass?
The only reason I can sit and type on this laptop is because all of these bad boys going everywhere, hitting everything, and 'giving information' in visible wavelengths,. have no mass.. and my head can withstand all of that dulled out force.
Pretty remarkable.

And think.
As christina agapakis reads this page.
Radio waves are flooding the room
they are there now
turn on your radio..

see I told you.
There there. you turn it off, there still there. There always there. There's all this informationm around you all the time, infrared, microwave, radio, ultraviolet. Litereally the clues as to what your neighbor is wearing through that next room is flooding your body but there is no sensory organ we possess to get it.
What crap!
What feeble mechanism we have.. only able to 'see' this literal speck.
And to think, what actually could be there.
What is out there that 'avoids' the energy in the visible wavelengths.. which ghosts right through them. The clues to the invisible - other forms of matter.
and gravity.
what idiots think we know if this mysterious pull.

To think right now... perhaps there is some reader of agapakis' blog.. upside down..
yes, it is true.
upside down.

and we are spinning around the sun, twirling and moving, while the air moves with us, planes stuck in the air moving with us.

what a crazy world!

just fun rambling.

By isaac newton (not verified) on 05 May 2010 #permalink

crap. 670million mph = speed of light
the crazy balls = photons.
but really perhaps its best to think of everything as sitting in a pool of radiation, and the waves coming from the matter is all we get, and we just use the lil different between crest to trough to get it right.
and it just so happens when we walk to the thing it's still there.. because light information comes so fast.
think about it.
close your eyes
(do it for real)

open them

see how quick that was.
thats cuz its 670 million mph.
see all that information

take that!

By isaac newton (not verified) on 05 May 2010 #permalink