Researchers from ETH Zurich have quite literally created a “cell phone”: they have reprogrammed mammalian cells in such a way that they can “phone” each other via chemical signals.
Telephoning is a mutual exchange of information: A phones B and they both agree what B should do. Once this is done, Party B phones Party A to let him or her know. A no longer phones B. During this two-way communication, electrical signals are sent, and for their transmission suitable devices are necessary.
Based on this formula, a team of bioengineers headed by Martin Fussenegger and Jörg Stelling at ETH Zurich’s Department of Biosystems Science and Engineering in Basel has programmed mammalian cells in such a way that two cells can communicate via chemical signals. The scientists have thus incorporated a synthetic two-way communication system into mammalian cells for the first time that also responds to concentration differences in the signal molecules. The researchers used suitable signal molecules and constructed “devices” out of biological components that receive, process and respond accordingly to the signals. The devices consist of suitable genes and their products, proteins, which are linked to each other logically.