Researchers at U.C. San Francisco and ETH Zurich have developed a method that allows them to take real-time control of specific genes in the common yeast saccharomyces cerevisiae with computer-controlled light flashes, according to results published in Nature — it's a significant advancement in the effort to create and manipulate synthetic life. Scientists have been working on synthetic life for more than a decade, and just last year the first synthetic, self-replicating bacteria was created. According to the researchers, previous efforts have run into difficulty controlling cell behavior.
The scientists created a feedback loop between the yeast and a computer by inserting a molecule which switches protein production on or off with the application of red light, and a flourescent gene marker which allows researchers to observe when the protein is being produced.
"It's quite difficult to engineer synthetic circuits that do something robustly in the cell, and the hope is that by augmenting this with external signals, you can get them to behave better," lead researcher John Lygeros told the BBC. The research could have applications in biofuel or antiobiotic production, where genetically engineered organisms are used. Future fuels and medicines sound nice, but we're hoping this innovation with yeast leads to some genetically perfect micro-brews.