By taking Verilog, a programming language used to design electronic circuits, MIT modified it so that it could be used to program microbes. Reportedly, of the 60 circuits designed, "45 worked perfectly the first time they were tried." This opens the door to bioprogramming engineered organisms specifically designed to perform a variety of applications extremely cheaply.
Synthetic biology aims to make it possible to treat cells as machines that can be engineered and programmed. By altering a microbe’s native DNA, it can be made to perform a specific task, such as producing a drug or changing colour to detect a virus in blood. Off-the-shelf genetic parts that can be swapped in and out make this easier, but it is still a painstaking process.
That’s where Verilog comes in. Verilog is a symbolic language that lets you specify the function of an electronic circuit in shorthand – without having to worry about the underlying hardware – and then convert it into a detailed design automatically. Voigt’s team realised they could do the same with DNA circuits.
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