Real Time Club event: Engineering Biology and the Rise of Biological Computing

I’m speaking after dinner at the Real Time Club in London on 24th May 2016. Come along for a fascinating discussion. Tickets are available here (including discounted student tickets)!

Abstract

After 4 billion years of life on Earth, biology has finally entered the digital age and digital biomanufacturing is a reality.

Now that we have begun to decode the building blocks of living organisms by reading their DNA, we can convert biology into data that can be manipulated and then ‘written’. We can recombine DNA in novel ways to recreate natural materials and build complex biological systems with novel properties and  capable of impressive computation.

No longer will computers be simply a tool for decoding DNA: soon, your computer itself could be made of DNA.

In this talk, I will discuss how designing computers using living organisms could revolutionise the way we store and process data; Microsoft has recently purchased large quantities of long lengths of synthetic DNA to store digital data by encoding vast amounts of information on synthetic genes.

Scientists are increasingly learning that biological systems are even more specialised at processing complex information than the greatest supercomputers. The new field of biological computing allows us to swap microprocessors for microbiology, using our knowledge of computers to redesign and re-engineer the incredible, invisible architecture of DNA into new machines. Human-machine interactions could be greater than we ever imagined.

The answer to redesigning organisms for computing lies in Synthetic Biology, a revolutionary field which seeks to apply the principles of engineering to biology. Synthetic Biology takes what we know about biology and uses it to build new things, drawing on the design principles of engineering and the circuit logic of electronics. The line between silicon and cells is becoming blurred.

Together we’ll explore the cutting-edge of biological computing, including some insight from current research, as we attempt to look into the future of human-computer interfaces.

Can this new engineered biology deliver on the promises it has made? Are modern computers up to the task? How can we reap the rewards of digitising biology, and who should be responsible for the risks?

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