Living cells ‘hacked’ and hijacked by MIT


Scientists at MIT have proven they can ‘hack’ living cells and programme them to carry out new tasks.

In the same way that computer language tells a machine how to operate, researchers have shown it is possible to write DNA ‘code’ and insert it into bacteria to alter how they function.

They hope that one day cells could be programmed so they could release cancer drugs on encountering a tumour, or allow plants to fight back with insecticide when a pest comes near.

“It is literally a programming language for bacteria,” said Christopher Voigt, an MIT professor of biological engineering.

“You use a text-based language, just like you’re programming a computer. Then you take that text and you compile it and it turns it into a DNA sequence that you put into the cell, and the circuit runs inside the cell.”

For 15 years bioengineers have been tinkering with genetic code to alter cells manually, but it is laborious and involves a great deal of trial and error.

But users of the new programming language need no special knowledge of genetic engineering. “You could be completely naive as to how any of it works. That’s what’s really different about this,” added Prof Voigt .

“You could be a student in high school and go onto the Web-based server and type out the program you want, and it spits back the DNA sequence.

“Unit now it would take years to build these types of circuits. Now you just hit the button and immediately get a DNA sequence to test.”

The language is based on Verilog, which is commonly used to program computer chips.

To create a version of the language that would work for cells, the researchers designed computing elements such as sensors that can be encoded in a bacterial cell’s DNA.

The sensors can detect different compounds, such as oxygen or glucose, as well as light, temperature, acidity, and other environmental conditions.

The team have used the language on E.coli bacteria but plan to start tests on more friends strains of bacteria which live in the human gut and so could exist in the human body without causing harm.

The first programmes altered the function of cells so that they responded to different environmental conditions such as the level of oxygen. The team is now working to produce code which create bacteria which can be swallowed to aid digestion of lactose and potentially cure lactose intolerance.

The work was reported in the journal Science.





Stuff like this bothers me. Do these genetically modified bacteria replicate? If they do, it seems like there would be no way to stop them from supplanting existing bacteria.

People don’t seem responsible enough to pull this off responsibly.


This is all trial and error. Releasing this into the wild would be very, very, very dangerous. But, not to worry. This work falls into the category of biological warfare. Especially since any and all changes must be reproducible and their effects known before being used as a weapon or cure. If a weapon is intended, a counter-bacteria or substance must be made immediately to shut it down.

But such work is done is highly controlled, sealed environments. Just mixing up the coding involves the same trial and error, just speeded up.



My thoughts on this article were exactly that while this might bring cures, it might alo bring very stealth ways of warfare… Ones that, if top secret, no one would even second guess the death as anything but a natural death.


This scares the heck out of me. As I was reading this, I had a Parade of Horribles going through my mind. Each was more dangerous and worse than the last.

I don’t think humans have evolved to the point where they can handle this science in a safe and responsible manner. This is playing God.


That’s been going on for a while.



I think this story was released for reasons other than providing information. It could be titled: “More fun than Nuclear Bombs, scientists propose crazy idea and say anybody could do it!”

Yeah, right.



Yeah, and those who suspect something doesn’t pass the ‘sniff test’, then they get labeled conspiracy theorists. … not saying all that is conspiracy is true, just that the mocking of those who speak up and the public’s dismissal of anything different than the official story works real well for those who are ‘in the know’ about these types of things and want to get away with their crimes.


Ditto here.

The only thing that I have heard that makes me feel better about all those ‘playing God’ is when I watched a documentary on the Chernobyl accident years later. Some scientists were studying the effects of the radiation on the animal populations there and I guess that some are doing ok.

They might be playing God, but God is still in charge. However, that doesn’t mean we are protected from the suffering it might cause years later. That’s the bit that sickens me… especially for the children.


Let’s focus on the many benefits.

Health is going nano. That has been the trend for a while. Nano and Robotics with a good dose of AI.


According to the article, this is not a good idea. Going nano is also fraught with its own problems. However, I’d be much more comfortable with a group of targeted nano-containers traveling through my bloodstream to deliver a cancer killing chemical than gene hacking that’s so simple that any uneducated, bored teenager with the program could build what amounts to a biological bomb.



Exactly…trial and error, except they are messing around with things that could have dire consequences to mankind.

It would not surprise me if man ends up destroying himself by technology, they wont realize what they have on their hands until its too late to contain it.

Some of this stuff, they should just leave alone.


The whole history of mankind has been of man destroying himself. (humanity) The only reason why its all documented is in the hopes man won’t do that again and learn from his mistakes. I’m not sure we’ve ever actually learned anything, and all that we think we’ve learned and discovered isn’t really much at all because the ultimate education is to become like God. Man still hates man. Man still kills man. And what a stupid thing this living seems to become because of it.

It would be fitting for the last days that man finally decided it knew better than God (thus, not believed) and tried to usurp His throne. God himself said he would not destroy the earth ever again after the flood… WHO ELSE do you think is going to do it according to the last days?


Hopefully they can make a cure for cancer with this. That would be good. :slight_smile:


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