The Harvard Team Wiki

More Photos
of the Harvard Team in Action

Cells By Design
by Pam Silver and Jeff West

MIT BioBricks
Making the TTL Databook for Genetic Circuits

Programming Patterns
Amorphous Computing ideas in real bacteria, by Ron Weiss's Lab.

iGem 2004
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).

iGEM: Genetically 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.