Optogenetics, a method that enables the control of cellular behavior through the use of light and the expression of light-sensitive proteins, has emerged as a strategy for neuronal manipulation with light. It is a powerful technique that provides good reversibility and high spatiotemporal precision. Due to these advantages over other cell manipulation methods, optogenetics has evolved as a tool now used also to control non-neuronal cells.
When made sensitive to light using the optogenetic toolbox, designer cells created through synthetic biology, i.e. the application of engineering principles for the construction of new biological entities, can open up a new era of advancements both in basic and translational research.
Prof. Martin Fussenegger and colleagues from ETH Zurich review the recent work on light-controllable designer cells engineered through the combination of non-neural optogenetic systems and synthetic biology.
They first describe the optogenetic toolbox for genetic programming of mammalian cells and compare optogenetic methods to other systems. They then highlight the recent applications of these light-sensitive cells, from the study of cellular functions to drug discovery and translational medicine. Finally, they cover the challenges standing in the way of therapeutic approaches combining optogenetics and mammalian synthetic biology and suggest possible solutions and future directions for this promising field.
This article is part of the Advanced Science 5th anniversary interdisciplinary article series, in which the journal’s executive advisory board members highlight top research in their fields. Check out the other articles in this virtual issue here.