Programmable Molecular Switches and Sensors: Devices for Converting Biochemical Information into Biological Function

Christina Smolke, Caltech

Cells employ a variety of different sensor biomolecules to dynamically evaluate their environments and trigger appropriate metabolic responses. The ability to program cells with engineered molecules that can sense structural and chemical events is a critical technology for many of the challenges that face us in biotechnology and medical research. Recent progress in the design of tailor-made molecular switches and sensors is rapidly advancing our ability to engineer 'smart' systems that will perform information processing or signal integration within cells or complex biological samples. The design of a new class of nucleic acid-based molecular sensors that transform different types of informational input into biological function and their application in regulating complex cellular behavior will be presented. Specifically, the design of intelligent nucleic acid sensors that act as targeted molecular therapies and in vivo imaging devices will be described. In addition, a digital nucleic acid sensor device that enables multiplex identification and quantification of proteins, small molecules, and other biomarkers for diseases or cellular states in a single, rapid, sensitive, and inexpensive platform will be described.

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