Pathways to cellular supremacy in biocomputing, a perspective

Synthetic biology applies engineering concepts to the rational engineering of living systems, such as bacteria and yeast, yielding new substrates for computation, production, pollution control, medical diagnosis and cheaper drug production, among other applications. Additionally, many researchers in the field believe that this process of re-engineering life will lead to a reexamination of our fundamental understanding of cellular processes. Up to now, synthetic biology has used “circuits” of biological components as the main building blocks. These computation-like circuits (or, genetic programs) receive an input, transform it, and generate a result. Although the concept of modular genetic programs is useful for designing and understanding engineered cells, it can limit the power and scope of synthetic biology, and it can also give a misleading impression regarding the reliability and predictability of these circuits in comparison to, for example, electronic circuits. In this paper, recently published in Nature Communications, the notion of “cellular supremacy” is proposed to focus attention on domains in which biocomputing might offer superior performance over traditional computers. The authors consider potential pathways toward cellular supremacy, and suggest application areas in which it may be found.
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