The Harvard Team Wiki
of the Harvard Team in Action
Cells By Design
by Pam Silver and Jeff West
Making the TTL Databook for Genetic Circuits
Amorphous Computing ideas in real
bacteria, by Ron Weiss's Lab.
Last Year's entries included a bacterial "film" (UT
Austin, image above), yeast that could distinguish caffineated vs
decaf(CalTech), and a bacterial counter (BU/Harvard).
Engineered Machines Competition
This summer 12 undergraduate students from Harvard joined 13 other
universities to participate in iGEM --- to design, build and
characterize genetically-encoded finite state machines. These 'living'
machines will try to instruct cells to for example count, decode
signals, or produce specific patterns. The challenge is to go from
idea, to design, to DNA, to implementation (in cells) in 3 months,
while inventing the right engineering abstractions and tools along the
way. The tools - biology combined with engineering principles for
asbtraction and combination.
Harvard's Team is composed of students from computer science to
biology, and freshman to seniors. And together they brainstormed,
designed and are implementing two cool circuits - the Biowire and the Bact-a-sketch. In the Biowire project,
bacterial cells create a florescent pulse that travels down a length
of bacteria (i.e. a wire). The pulse is transmitted using cell-to-cell
signalling, and the trick is to get the pulse to travel in one
direction. The group also created micro-patterned stamps to lay down
bacteria in different patterns. In the Bact-a-sketch, a lawn of cells
is a film on which one can "write" using a UV pen and then "erase"
using heat. The basic circuit is a genetic switch, with UV and heat
inputs. The group is experimenting with several versions of
switches. They will present their ideas at the Jamboree in Nov at MIT.
Top row, left to right: Kit, Radhika, George, Danny,
Kang-Xing, Patrick, Eve, Chris, Sasha, Ira. Bottom Row: Alain, Sasha,
Pam, Jenny, Connie, Hing, Orr, Yin, Thomas
The goal of synthetic biology is to eventually reach the state
where bioengineers can create circuits in living cells, using the same
strategies of modularity and abstraction that engineers use to create
computer chips for example. Currently even simple switches are hard to
make and each circuit is created as an art form from scratch. But that
is how many engineering substrates begin. The goal is to invent the
right abstractions and learn the right modularity, and perhaps in the
process of building things in cells we will discover some of the
principles that cells themselves use.