A joint collaboration between the researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the Center for iPS Cell Research and Application (CiRA), Kyoto University, has led to the invention of RNA-based gene circuits that control cellular output.
Because these circuits are entirely RNA-based, the researchers believe that they should be safer for use in humans when compared with their DNA-based counterparts. Therefore, the researchers have RNA-based gene circuits would be available for a number of biomedical applications.
Unfortunately, although a number of such circuits already exist, none are suitable for biomedical applications and therefore cannot replace drugs.
"All circuit designs rely exclusively or partially on DNA-based transcriptional regulation, and the required DNA poses a risk of cancer," said Ron Weiss, a synthetic biologist at the MIT who is seeking ways around this problem. Accordingly, Weiss considered ways to remove the requirement for transcriptional regulation by making RNA-only circuits. To push this work quickly, he partnered with Hirohide Saito, a bioengineer and professor at CiRA who specializes in RNA-based technologies.
Saito explained what makes the RNA-only circuits envisaged by Weiss more challenging. "In the case of DNA, various transcriptional repressors and activators are known and used to construct circuits. In the case of RNA-only circuits, we need a set of RNA-binding proteins that effectively control gene expression in a post-transcriptional manner," said the Japanese researcher.