Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Novel living system recreates predator-prey interaction

The hunter-versus-hunted phenomenon exemplified by a pack of lionesses chasing down a lonely gazelle has been recreated in a Petri dish with lowly bacteria.

Working with colleagues at Caltech, Stanford and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, a Duke University bioengineer has developed a living system using genetically altered bacteria that he believes can provide new insights into how the population levels of prey influence the levels of predators, and vice-versa.

The Duke experiment is an example of a synthetic gene circuit, where researchers load new "programming" into bacteria to make them perform new functions. Such re-programmed bacteria could see a wide variety of applications in medicine, environmental cleanup and biocomputing. In this particular Duke study, researchers rewrote the software of the common bacteria Escherichia coli (E. coli.) to form a mutually dependent living circuit of predator and prey.

The bacterial predators don't actually eat the prey, however. The two populations control each others' suicide rates.

... more about:
»Living »ecosystem »predator-prey »prey

“We created a synthetic ecosystem made up of two distinct populations of E. coli, each with its own specific set of programming and each with the ability to affect the existence of the other,” said Lingchong You, assistant professor of biomedical engineering at Duke’s Pratt School of Engineering and member of Duke’s Institute for Genome Sciences and Policy. “This ecosystem is quite similar to the traditional predator-prey relationship seen in nature and may allow us to explore the dynamics of interacting populations in a predictable manner.”

The results of You’s study appear April 15 in the journal Molecular Systems Biology. The research was supported by National Institutes of Health, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.

This field of study, known as synthetic biology, emerged on the scientific scene around 2000, and many of the systems created since have involved the reprogramming of single bacteria. The current circuit is unique in that two different populations of reprogrammed bacteria live in the same ecosystem and are dependent on each other for survival.

“The key to the success of this kind of circuit is the ability of the two populations to communicate with each other,” You said. “We created bacteria representing the predators and the prey, with each having the ability to secrete chemicals into their shared ecosystem that can protect or kill.”

Central to the operation of this circuit are the numbers of predator and prey cells relative to each other in their controlled environment. Variations in the number of cells of each type trigger the activation of the reprogrammed genes, stimulating the creation of different chemicals.

In this system, low levels of prey in the environment cause the activation of a “suicide” gene in the predator, causing them to die. However, as the population of prey increases, it secretes into the environment a chemical that, when it achieves a high enough concentration, stimulates a gene in the predator to produce an “antidote” to the suicide gene. This leads to an increase in predators, which in turn causes the predator to produce another chemical which enters the prey cell and activates a “killer” gene, causing the prey to die.

“This system is much like the natural world, where one species – the prey – suffers from growth of another species – the predator,” You said. “Likewise, the predator benefits from the growth of the prey.”

This circuit is not an exact representation of the predator-prey relationship in nature because the prey stops the programmed suicide of predator instead of becoming food, and both populations compete for the same “food” in their world. Nevertheless, You believes that the circuit will become a useful tool for biologic researchers.

“This system provides clear mapping between genetics and the dynamics of population change, which will help in future studies of how molecular interactions can influence population changes, a central theme of ecology,” You said. “There are literally unlimited ways to change variables in this system to examine in detail the interplay between environment, gene regulation and population dynamics.

“With additional control over the mixing or segregating of different populations, we should be able to program bacteria to mimic the development and differentiation of more complex organisms,” he said.

Richard Merritt | EurekAlert!
Further information:

Further reports about: Living ecosystem predator-prey prey

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht First time-lapse footage of cell activity during limb regeneration
25.10.2016 | eLife

nachricht Phenotype at the push of a button
25.10.2016 | Institut für Pflanzenbiochemie

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Greater Range and Longer Lifetime

26.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

VDI presents International Bionic Award of the Schauenburg Foundation

26.10.2016 | Awards Funding

3-D-printed magnets

26.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

More VideoLinks >>>