Keynote Speakers

The Living Computing Project - How Can I Make A Cell Compute?

Douglas Densmore

Douglas Densmore

Associate Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering
Director of Cross-disciplinary Integration of Design Automation Research (CIDAR) Group
Boston University
Boston, MA 02215, USA

Computing in the 21st century is extremely exciting, diverse, and democratized. Using just a few simple concepts and a personal computer, people of all ages and backgrounds can create smartphone applications, social media networks, and amazing electronic gadgets. Each of these creations can then be shared, modified, and extended by others. This project is going to let us “program biology” and democratize the process as society has with electronic computing. Programming biology is going to be the key to solving many of the 21st century’s most pressing human health, agricultural, and materials challenges. This talk outlines the process by which we can explore digital, analog, memory and communication concepts in living organisms. I will discuss how we can specify, design, and assemble these systems using engineering approaches taken from computer engineering. An important challenge is how to formally quantify the results and archive the materials for the larger synthetic biology design community to build upon. I will specifically be focused on the transformation of high level specifications used in computing engineering to actual collections of DNA networks which can “program” living cells. These cells can then be introduced into microfluidic environments to control their interactions and interface with embedded electronics. Such systems have applications in bio-sensing, bio-medicine, bio-materials, and bio-energy.

Short Biography

Douglas Densmore is a Kern Faculty Fellow, a Hariri Institute for Computing and Computational Science and Engineering Faculty Fellow, and Associate Professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Boston University. His research focuses on the development of tools for the specification, design, and assembly of synthetic biological systems, drawing upon his experience with embedded system level design and electronic design automation (EDA). Extracting concepts and methodologies from these fields, he aims to raise the level of abstraction in synthetic biology by employing standardized biological part-based designs which leverage domain specific languages, constraint based device composition, visual editing environments, and automated assembly. He is the director of the Cross-disciplinary Integration of Design Automation Research (CIDAR) group at Boston University, where his team of staff and postdoctoral researchers, undergraduate interns, and graduate students develop computational and experimental tools for synthetic biology. His research facilities include both a computational workspace in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering as well as experimental laboratory space in the Boston University Biological Design Center (BDC). Currently he is also the lead PI for the NSF Expeditions in Computing’s “Living Computing Project”.

Redox: A Modality to Bridge Biological and Electronic Communication

Gregory F. Payne

Gregory F. Payne

Professor of Bioengineering
Fischell Department of Bioengineering
University of Maryland
College Park, MD 20742, USA

Molecular communication offers an exciting vision for applying the capabilities of information technology to communication with biological systems. Realizing this vision is often impeded by the technical difficulties in creating devices capable of sending and/or receiving information through specific chemical modalities that are prevalent in biological signaling. However, biology is also well known for a non-specific global electrical modality associated with ion flows across membranes and this global modality is routinely used by clinicians to measure/control functions of the neuromuscular system (e.g., electrocardiograms and defibrillators). Emerging biological research indicates that reduction-oxidation (redox) reactions offer a second global electrical signaling modality – in this case associated with the flow of electrons. Importantly, this redox modality is accessible to electrochemical instrumentation that can observe/impose redox signals simply, rapidly and with high sensitivity. Importantly, electrochemical signals are also in a convenient format for complex signal analysis. We are focused on two broad questions. First, can useful chemical redox-based information in biological systems be accessed globally at a system’s level? Global, system’s level access to chemical information requires a more general definition beyond the current restrictive paradigm that equates chemical information to chemical composition and concentrations. Our initial studies in this area are focused on measuring oxidative stress and we recently reported a serum assay capable of discerning disease and correlating to symptom severity. Second, how can synthetic biology be used for chemical information processing? Recently, we reported sensing capabilities in which a synthetic biology construct recognizes specific chemical information and transduces it into a redox signal detectable by an electrochemical sensor. Further, we reported information flow in the opposite direction where a redox input is transduced by a syn-bio construct into specific chemical signals that alter biological behavior. In summary, we believe these initial successes illustrate the capabilities of redox to open the dialogue between biology and electronics.

Short Biography

Gregory F. Payne received his B.S./M.S. degrees from Cornell University and his Ph.D. from The University of Michigan. He returned to Cornell for post-doctoral study with Michael Shuler. In 1986 Prof. Payne joined the faculty of the University of Maryland where he is a Professor jointly-appointed in the Institute for Bioscience and Biotechnology Research and the Fischell Department of Bioengineering. Currently, he is a Guest Professor at Wuhan University and Chair Professor at East China University of Science and Technology. His research focuses on using biology’s materials, mechanisms and lessons to fabricate high-performance soft matter that is cheap, safe and sustainable. In particular, his group focuses on building structure/function using stimuli-responsive biological polymers (especially polysaccharides), enzymes (especially tyrosinase and transglutaminase) and redox-active phenolics.

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