A Computer Engineering Approach to Synthetic Biology
By Donald Rock (COM’17)
A reader picking up Nature Methods would not expect to see an article about computer engineering. ECE Assistant Professor Douglas Densmore and BU researcher Evan Appleton have just changed that notion by publishing a paper on automated DNA assembly, which offers a computer engineering approach to synthetic biology.
The researchers’ novel methodology may profoundly affect the field of synthetic biology. If utilized, this software can help biologists build genetic constructs at greater efficiency and scale so that organisms can be more efficiently altered to act as biosensors to detect harmful chemicals in the environment or act as biotherapeuthics to produce low cost drugs for patients, or as biomaterials, such as specialized silks.
The paper entitled “Interactive Assembly Algorithms for Molecular Cloning“ describes how software can provide optimized assembly plans for genetic constructs made from numerous DNA segments. Once assembled, these DNA segments can be introduced to living organisms to alter their behavior. The software not only provides optimized plans to build these constructs, but in the event of an assembly failure, it also offers alternative plans that reuse much of the original plan. Additionally, the software allows for assembly “standards” to be followed which democratize the process across the field.
Professor Densmore is not a newcomer to interdisciplinary research. He serves as the director of BU’s Cross-disciplinary Integration of Design Automation Research (CIDAR) group. His CIDAR team works to develop computational and experimental tools for synthetic biology.