Document Type

Working Paper

Publication Date



Computational biology, Self-organizing systems, Biology -- Mathematical models


In this article, the term biological computation refers to the proposal that living organisms themselves perform computations, and, more specifically, that the abstract ideas of information and computation may be key to understanding biology in a more unified manner. It is important to point out that the study of biological computation is typically not the focus of the field of computational biology, which applies computing tools to the solution of specific biological problems. Likewise, biological computation is distinct from the field of biologically-inspired computing, which borrows ideas from biological systems such as the brain, insect colonies, and the immune system in order to develop new algorithms for specific computer science applications. While there is some overlap among these different meldings of biology and computer science, it is only the study of biological computation that asks, specifically, if, how, and why living systems can be viewed as fundamentally computational in nature.


Sante Fe Institute Working Paper: 2010-09-021, to appear in ACM Ubiquity Symposium on “What is Computation?” Final version published in "Ubiquity symposium: Biological Computation." Ubiquity 2011. February (2011): 3, found at DOI 10.1145/1940721.1944826.

Persistent Identifier