Researchers from the University of Warwick in the United Kingdom have developed a genetically engineered common molecule capable of being programmed to fight cancer, influenza and other diseases.
Led by Alfonso Jaramillo in the Warwick's school of life sciences, the research into programming ribonucleic acid (RNA) could provide personalized programmable defenses of the body. Alerting the gene expression of the RNA cells allow for instructions to be sent to the cell and tell them what to do. Similar to software on a computer or mobile applications, the "virtual machine" of the cell will be able to perform specific actions to treat a variety of diseases.
"The capabilities of RNA molecules to interact in a predictable manner, and with alternative conformations, has allowed us to engineer networks of molecular switches that could be made to process arbitrary orders encoded in RNA,” concluded Jaramillo. "Throughout the last year, my group has been developing methodologies to enable RNA sensing the environment, perform arithmetic computations and control gene expression without relying on proteins, which makes the system universal across all living kingdoms. The cells could read the RNA 'software' to perform the encoded tasks, which could make the cells detect abnormal states, infections, or trigger developmental programs."