Researchers at UC San Diego who last year genetically engineered bacteria to keep track of time by turning on and off fluorescent proteins within their cells have taken another step toward the construction of a programmable genetic sensor. The scientists recently synchronized these bacterial “genetic clocks” to blink in unison and engineered the bacterial genes to alter their blinking rates when environmental conditions change.
“The use of quorum sensing is a promising approach to increase the sensitivity and robustness of the dynamic response to external signals,” said Hasty. “In nature, synchronization typically helps stabilize a desired behavior arising from a network of intrinsically noisy and unreliable elements. We think the synchronized genetic clock sets the stage for the use of microbes as a macroscopic biosensor with oscillatory output, or applications of using a synchronized periodic signal in drug delivery.”