Cellular Computing and Synthetic Biology
Synthetic biology is an emerging, rapidly growing research field in which engineering principles are applied to natural, living systems. A major goal of synthetic biology is to harness the inherent “biological nanotechnology” of living cells for a number of applications, including computation, production, and diagnosis. In its infancy, synthetic biology was mainly concerned with the construction of small-scale, proof-of-principle computational devices (cellular computing), along the lines of simple logic gates and circuits, but the state-of-the-art now uses multicellular complexes and engineered cell-cell communication. From its practical origins around the turn of the century, the field has grown into a global scientific market predicted to be worth tens of billions of dollars by 2020. Anticipated applications include tissue engineering, environmental remediation, in situ disease detection and treatment, and even the development of the first fully-synthetic organism. In this chapter we review the timeline of synthetic biology, describe its alignment with unconventional computation, and, drawing on quotations from leading researchers in the field, describe its main challenges and opportunities.
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