The RIBONETS (Programming cellular networks and community behaviour with synthetic RNA-based devices) project used RNA to perform hacks on cells' algorithms for various purposes, notably in the field of biology.
RIBONETS consisted in developing a novel RNA-based toolbox for cellular computing — a prerequisite for new RNA designs in synthetic biology and life sciences. RIBONETS’s toolbox consists of entirely synthetic RNA switches acting negatively on the expression of a target gene of choice. A flexible nucleic acid sequence design tool, called RNAblueprint, was developed. It features a user-friendly interface, is opensource and can be found on GitHub.
According to Prof. Axmann, the tool has a tremendous potential: ‘In the future, RNA-based diagnostics and bio-therapeutics will improve the human condition not only by means of technological applications but also with new therapeutic approaches. Synthetic RNAs and RNA aptamers — presumably in combination with assisting proteins like CRISPRCas9 — have an enormous potential for targeting disease-related genes that so far have been considered impossible to treat. Recent advances in chemistry will allow for direct delivery of synthetic RNA into cells, thereby further increasing their potential for future applications in nucleic-acid therapeutics.’
In addition to its toolbox, RIBONETS’ value also lies in the education and training of a new generation of RNA scientists, as well as the bridges having been built between RNA bioinformatics and RNA wet lab biologists.