Reprogramming Bacteria with Small Molecules and RNA
Justin P. Gallivan, Emory University, Atlanta, GA

Simple organisms, such as the bacterium E. coli., carry out a wide variety of complex chemical tasks. E. coli cells synthesize complex molecules, communicate with one another, move in response to changing conditions, and replicate themselves every 20 minutes. The programs that control these behaviors are encoded in a genome so small that its entire information content can be stored on a 3.5-inch floppy disk with room to spare.

In this talk, I will present our recent efforts to reprogram E. coli to sense new small molecules and to respond to them with predictable behaviors. Specifically, I will describe our efforts to create synthetic riboswitches, which are designer RNA sequences that control gene expression in response to small molecules without the need for proteins, and I will show how synthetic riboswitches can be used to engineer bacteria to have a variety of functions, including the ability to follow new small molecules.

Finally, I will discuss how our work fits into the ‘new’ field of synthetic biology and prospects for the future of the field.

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