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Engineering Computation and Living Materials with Synthetic Biology

Exponential improvements in semiconductor technology have catalyzed amazing advancements in electronics over the past several decades and revolutionized modern life. Similar to Moore's Law, exponential improvements in our ability to sequence and synthesize DNA are underway which promise to transform our ability to leverage biology for a wide range of applications. Synthetic biology is an emerging engineering discipline that aims to leverage this ever-improving ability to read and write DNA in order to introduce novel functionalities into living systems, such as computation and the ability to synthesize materials.

I will discuss our recent efforts to engineer living cells with genetic parts, devices, and circuits in order to compute information using digital and analog paradigms. For example, we recently showed how memory can be encoded into the DNA of living cells and integrated with genetic circuits that implement Boolean logic functions. We have also engineered genetic circuits inside of cells that can calculate mathematical functions such as addition, subtraction, division, logarithms, and power laws. Furthermore, I will discuss how living cells can be used to organize self-assembling materials (such as proteins and gold nanoparticles) across multiple length scales, to nucleate the formation of inorganic materials such as quantum dots, and to build conductive biofilms.


rmcmichael [at] (Robert McMichael), 301-975-5121

Timothy Lu, M.D., Ph.D.

MIT Synthetic Biology Center

Created March 27, 2014, Updated September 19, 2016