What does this mean, exactly? "We are looking at creating a cell's equivalent to a computer operating system in such a way that a given group of cells could be seamlessly re-programmed to perform any function without needing to modifying its hardware," explains Professor Natalio Krasnogor, who leads the effort, "We are talking about a highly ambitious goal leading to a fundamental breakthrough that will, ultimately, allow us to rapidly prototype, implement and deploy living entities that are completely new and do not appear in nature, adapting them so they perform new useful functions."
This technology could potentially have a huge impact on the world. It could lead to to the development of new food sources, special drugs tailored to patients, growing new organs for transplant patients. Furthermore, it could be used to solve environmental problems.
"Currently, each time we need a cell that will perform a certain new function we have to recreate it from scratch which is a long and laborious process. Most people think all we have to do to modify behaviour is to modify a cell's DNA but it's not as simple as that - we usually find we get the wrong behaviour and then we are back to square one," Krasnogor further explains, "If we succeed with this AUdACiOuS project, in five years time, we will be programming bacterial cells in the computer and compiling and storing its program into these new cells so they can readily execute them. Like for a computer, we are trying to create a basic operating system for a biological cell."
The research paper, titled "A computational study of liposome logic: towards cellular computing from the bottom up", is available online - although I'm not sure if it's free (my university account took care of it).