Monthly Archives: February 2013

Global Bio-Nano Firms

New research from Simon Fraser University, in collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of New South Wales and presented today at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Boston, highlights the economic ramifications of the confluence of the biotechnology and nanotechnology sectors (session info).

Entitled “Global Bio-Nano Firms: Exploiting the Confluence of Technologies”, the study shows that the integration of knowledge from the biotech and nanotech spheres has been driven by so-called “De Novo” firms — technology start-ups typically borne of research labs and tightly integrated with universities. The radical innovation at the heart of this emerging space — described as the birth of a new sector — opens up opportunities for new companies at the intersection of these two fields.

The international collaboration, led by Elicia Maine, an Associate Professor at SFU’s Beedie School of Business, involved the identification, classification and analysis of over 500 firms active in the emerging global bio-nano sector. Her co-authors were MIT’s James Utterback, Professor of Management and Innovation, Sloan School of Management and Professor of Engineering Systems; V.J. Thomas, Postdoctoral Fellow, SFU and IIT Delhi; Martin Bliemel, Lecturer at the Australian School of Business, University of New South Wales; and Armstrong Murira, Simon Fraser University PhD student, Molecular Biology and Biochemistry.

The presentation is part of a larger, half-day panel at AAAS 2013 organized by Maine and Utterback entitled “Confluence of Streams of Knowledge: Biotechnology and Nanotechnology.” Other speakers include Robert S. Langer from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Nathan Lewis from the California Institute of Technology, Sarah Kaplan of the University of Toronto; and Han Cao, founder of BioNano Genomics.
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Bio-logic functions and memory

MIT engineers have created genetic circuits in bacterial cells that not only perform logic functions, but also remember the results, which are encoded in the cell’s DNA and passed on for dozens of generations.  The circuits, described in the Feb. 10 online edition ofNature Biotechnology, could be used as long-term environmental sensors, efficient controls for biomanufacturing, or to program stem cells to differentiate into other cell types.

“Almost all of the previous work in synthetic biology that we’re aware of has either focused on logic components or on memory modules that just encode memory. We think complex computation will involve combining both logic and memory, and that’s why we built this particular framework to do so,” says Timothy Lu, an MIT assistant professor of electrical engineering and computer science and biological engineering and senior author of the Nature Biotechnology paper.  Lead author of the paper is MIT postdoc Piro Siuti. Undergraduate John Yazbek is also an author.

More than logic

Synthetic biologists use interchangeable genetic parts to design circuits that perform a specific function, such as detecting a chemical in the environment. In that type of circuit, the target chemical would generate a specific response, such as production of green fluorescent protein (GFP).  Circuits can also be designed for any type of Boolean logic function, such as AND gates and OR gates. Using those kinds of gates, circuits can detect multiple inputs. In most of the previously engineered cellular logic circuits, the end product is generated only as long as the original stimuli are present: Once they disappear, the circuit shuts off until another stimulus comes along.

Lu and his colleagues set out to design a circuit that would be irreversibly altered by the original stimulus, creating a permanent memory of the event. To do this, they drew on memory circuits that Lu and colleagues designed in 2009. Those circuits depend on enzymes known as recombinases, which can cut out stretches of DNA, flip them, or insert them. Sequential activation of those enzymes allows the circuits to count events happening inside a cell.   Rest of article