Reprogramming bacteria to produce proteins for drugs, biofuels, and more, has long been part of the job for bioscientists, but for years they have struggled to get those bugs to follow orders.

Those days may be over. It turns out that a hidden feature of the genetic code controls how much of the desired protein bacteria produce, a team from the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard reported in today’s online issue of Science.

The findings could be a boon for biotechnologists, and help synthetic biologists reprogram bacteria to make new drugs and biological devices.

By combining high-speed “next-generation” DNA sequencing and DNA synthesis technologies, Sriram Kosuri, a Wyss Institute staff scientist, George Church, a core faculty member at the Wyss Institute and professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School, and Daniel Goodman, a Wyss Institute graduate research fellow, found that using more rare words, or codons, near the start of a gene removes roadblocks to protein production.