Researchers are harnessing the key attributes of a virus, called M13, to develop the first biological Internet, or ‘Bi-Fi’, by creating a mechanism to send genetic messages from one cell to another. The system greatly increases the complexity and amount of data that can be communicated between cells and could lead to greater control of biological functions within cell communities.

Stanford University bioengineering researchers Monica Ortiz and Drew Endy have ‘parasitised’ the parasite and harnessed the M13’s key attributes — its non-lethality and its ability to package and broadcast arbitrary DNA strands — to create ‘Bi-Fi’. It could lead to biosynthetic factories in which huge masses of microbes collaborate to make more complicated fuels, pharmaceuticals and other useful chemicals, including the regeneration of tissue or organs in future, a Stanford University statement said.

Ms. Ortiz was even able to broadcast her genetic messages between cells separated by a gelatinous medium at a distance greater than seven centimetres. “That’s very long-range communication, cellularly speaking,” she said.

It reproduces within its host, taking strands of DNA that engineers can control, wrapping them up one by one and sending them out encapsulated within proteins produced by the M13 that can infect other cells.

The findings were published in the Journal of Biological Engineering.

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