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New programming language could code DNA to deliver drugs and detect diseases

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DNA strand
DNA strand

The University of Washington envisions a future where our bodies will be tuned to heal us just as easily as software is built to entertain us — and it's come up with a method that could eventually turn this idea into a reality. University researchers have developed a programming language that engineers could use to build artificial DNA molecules that can be embedded into human cells. While the language is still in its infancy and not far enough along for use in the medical industry, the university says it hopes its creation will eventually be used to craft custom molecules that can be inserted into a patient's body to deliver drugs or detect diseases and other abnormalities.

It's like Java or Python, but for DNA

The language essentially builds on the sort of chemical equations anyone who has taken a chemistry class will be familiar with. In a report published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology, researchers said the language lets them write equations for DNA in code that can be used to test new drugs and medical treatments. In theory, the language could program DNA molecules to control our cells no differently than a rudimentary computer. If Washington's software-like approach to dictating how our cells operate pans out, doctors could someday have us ingesting code instead of pills to fight off diseases.