Systems Science Friday Noon Seminar Series



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Engineers who attempt to discover and optimize the behavior of complex biochemical systems face a dauntingly difficult task. This is especially true if the systems are governed by multiple qualitative and quantitative variables that have non-linear response functions and that interact synergistically. The synthetic biology community has responded to this difficulty by promoting the use of "standard biological parts" called "BioBricks", which are supposed to make biology into traditional engineering and enable engineers to "program living organisms in the same way a computer scientists can program a computer". But the BioBricks research program faces daunting hurdles, because the nonlinearity and synergy found throughout biochemical systems generates lots of unpredictable emergent properties. This talk describes an alternative vision of how to engineer complex biochemical systems, according to which we would refashion engineering to fit biology (rather than the other way around). The resulting method (termed "Predictive Design Technology" or PDT) is a robot- and computer-driven automatic and autonomous implementation of traditional Edisonian science. The PDT method is described and illustrated in application to a number of practical biochemical design tasks, including (2) optimizing combination drug therapies, (2) optimizing cargo capacity of liposomes that self-assemble from complex amphiphile mixtures, (3) optimizing the liposomal formulation of insoluble drugs, and (4) optimizing in vitro protein expression.

Biographical Information

Mark A. Bedau is Professor of Philosophy and Humanities at Reed College in Portland, Oregon, Co-Founder of the European Center for Living Technology (ECLT), Partner in the EU-funded Programmable Artificial Cell Evolution (PACE) program, Co-organizer of the Eleventh International Conference on the Simulation and Synthesis of Living Systems (Artificial Life XI), and Visiting Professor, Ph.D. Program in Life Sciences: Foundations and Ethics, European School of Molecular Medicine. He is the coeditor of Emergence: Contemporary Readings in Science and Philosophy and Protocells: Bridging Nonliving and Living Matter, both published by the MIT Press in 2008.


System theory, Chaotic behavior in systems -- Mathematical models, Bioengineering, Synthetic biology, Predictive control


Biological Engineering | Systems and Integrative Engineering

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Beyond Biobricks: Synthesizing Synergistic Biochemical Systems from the Bottom-up