Friday, July 31, 2009

From Seed to Sentinel

By Kristopher Hite

Imagine stepping onto a vast green field. A closer look and you notice circular patches of white grass speckle the landscape. If you know what you are looking at these biological signals might save your life as you proceed. TNT leaching from buried landmines activate plants with an engineered ability to "degreen" in the presence of specific molecules. Though these sentinals have yet to be deployed on the battlefield it is not hard to imagine a technique like this being used to save lives. A clear example of synthetic biology at work this technology was developed by June Medford at Colorado State University.

By fully controlling an entire signal transduction pathway in plant cells synthetic biology allows scientists to use predictable on/off signals like plant pigment to do positive work for humanity. Plant-based reconnaissance technology is one of many foreseeable applications for controlled synthetic gene networks. June Medford along with other thinkers like Craig Venter and George Church work at the forefront of this emerging chapter of biotechnology. We are all watching to learn the next twist in this story.


Antunes, M., Ha, S., Tewari-Singh, N., Morey, K., Trofka, A., Kugrens, P., Deyholos, M., & Medford, J. (2006). A synthetic de-greening gene circuit provides a reporting system that is remotely detectable and has a re-set capacity Plant Biotechnology Journal, 4 (6), 605-622 DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-7652.2006.00205.x
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