CIDAR: Where Biology Meets Engineering

in NEWS, Students

New life forms reporting to robots reporting to humans may seem like something out of a science fiction movie, but this may be closer to reality than you think.


With recent Office of Naval Research, DARPA, Agilent, and NSF funding, researchers from Boston University, alongside those from Harvard, MIT, UC Berkeley, Northeastern, and the University of Pennsylvania, are working on projects that combine humans, robots, and genetic engineering. The work has the potential to alert humans of harmful bacteria, create “assembly lines” of genetic parts, and create specialized cells to fight a host of diseases.

Boston University’s laboratory, the Cross-disciplinary Integration of Design Automation Research (CIDAR) group, plays a central role in these projects. As members of the lab work on software and experimental “design drivers” to help synthetic biologists work more efficiently, they focus on the following research areas: specification, design, assembly, and community outreach.

Synthetic biology merges technology and biology to solve emerging problems pertaining to areas such as energy, health, food, and the environment. The CIDAR group aims to use computation techniques, largely derived from electrical engineering and computer science, and apply those to experimentally verified synthetic biological systems.

With students in electrical and computer science; bioinformatics; biomedical engineering; and molecular cell biology and biochemistry, CIDAR researchers yield nontraditional results thanks to the cross-disciplinary nature of the group. The work is particularly useful to students interested in electronic design automation, synthetic biology, or professional software development and engineering.

The CIDAR laboratory also brings computationalists and experimentalists together. Computationalists often focus on theoretically interesting problems, which alone does not directly make the engineering of today’s biological systems a reality. Experimentalists, on the other hand, spend time designing ad-hoc, piecewise software that computationalists can develop better by taking a holistic approach. By bringing the two types of research styles together, Assistant Professor Douglas Densmore (ECE), who leads the CIDAR lab, hopes to come up with new solutions to apply toward synthetic biology.

CIDAR supports on-campus projects such as Clotho, Eugene, and Puppeteer.

Learn more about CIDAR in this video overview with Densmore.

If you’re interested in joining CIDAR, see open available positions.

-Sneha Dasgupta (COM ’13)

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