Monday, March 04, 2013

SemiSynBio

As I mentioned recently, just about immediately upon going remote for a month, I had to fly right back to Boston. That was the Thursday before last, when I narrowly escaped the Doom of O'Hare on my way to a curious workshop. This event, SemiSynBio, was an invitation-only gathering organized by the SRC, an organization that essentially acts as a research arm of the semiconductor industry, who had invited a group of people to come and discuss semiconductors, engineering of biology, and how the two of them might fit together in the future.

From my perspective, there were three main strands of discussion:

  • DNA used as a nanotechnological material for fabrication, memory or computational substrate.
  • Integrated systems of semiconductors and biological organisms, where the biology does the chemistry (sensing, actuation, power, etc.) and the semiconductors do the information processing and decision making.
  • Engineering of biological organisms (generally single-celled), where both the computation and the chemistry operate self-contained within the organism.

Could biology provide the new substrate to keep Moore's law alive for another decade or so? Could the incredibly massive design techniques of the semiconductor industry be adapted for coping with the tangled complexity of evolved organisms?  I don't think there were any answers yet, but it made for a good conversation, and something interesting may come of it...

My own talk was squarely in the third area, presenting the work we've done on biological design automation.  If you look at those slides, you'll get the first public peek at some truly large circuits produced by the Proto BioCompiler.  Not that we can even plausibly build those any time in the next few years, but they're well within the possibilities of eukaryotic cells... and the structures produced by the optimizing compiler are intriguingly difficult to interpret and reminiscent of some of the tangles in naturally occurring gene regulatory networks... I look forward to digging in and seeing if there's anything there...
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