7th January 2008 – Synthetic Biology and Biological Computing

Dr. Martyn Amos from Manchester Metropolitan University will help us look into the technologies of biological computing and how we can now adjust biological “creatures” to do things never previously created in the history of life.

In the living cell and given the right conditions, DNA is capable of performing every trick that evolution has taught it over 3½ billion years. If you could attach that vast armoury of ability to the power of your DNA computer, you have the enormous potential of the cellular computer. The flood of genetic information coming from a host of genome projects that not only include humans but many other organisms from onions to orangutans is like a catalogue of genetic components for synthetic biologists. In time they hope to pick what they need from such databases to build molecular machines for specific tasks

For instance, a harmless bacterium could be modified into a microbot, programmed to sniff out the chemical traces of a newly formed cluster of cancer cells and emit a molecular signal to wipe out the diseased tissue. Similarly, in reverse the silicon based computers are being used in biological situations e.g. to allow people to “feel” their artificial limbs and get direct nerve feedback as to position and forces acting on them. We’re going to see BIG changes over the next few years.

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