The first step in engineering cellular behavior is to choose an input which regulates the programmed behavior. The choice of input, while heavily dependent on the specific application, is severely restricted by the type of molecular sensors (such as receptors) available for experiments. Until now, researchers mostly mined nature for its bounty of sensor proteins which have evolved over millions of years to specifically sense an input.
To combat this bottleneck and generate universal receptors, we created generalized extracellular molecule sensors (GEMS) and reported it in a recent publication in the journal Nature Chemical Biology. By using fragments from antibodies raised against the desired target in combination with engineered natural receptor fragments, the choice of the target as well as the endogenous signaling pathway controlled by the target is up to the researcher. This substantially expands the design space in synthetic biology and might lead to a flurry of exciting new projects!