Caltech researchers awarded $10M for molecular programming project

Aug 18, 2008

The National Science Foundation's Expeditions in Computing program has awarded $10 million to the Molecular Programming Project, a collaborative effort by researchers at the California Institute of Technology and the University of Washington to establish a fundamental approach to the design of complex molecular and chemical systems based on the principles of computer science.

The focus of their study, molecular programs, are collections of molecules that may perform a computation, fabricate an object, or control a system of molecular sensors and actuators. The project aims to develop tools and theories for molecular programming--such as programming languages and compilers--that will enable systematic design and implementation in the laboratory.

Eventually, molecular programs could be used to manufacture nanoscale objects, to create biochemical circuitry to probe the inner workings of cells, and as "programmable therapies" placed within living cells to diagnose and directly respond to diseases.

"Our project is a response to the fact that the molecular systems people are building today are now so complex, and their behavior so intricate, that future progress hinges on developing the intellectual and practical tools for mastering that complexity, the kinds of tools that computer science has already developed for silicon computers," says Erik Winfree, associate professor of computer science, computation and neural systems, and bioengineering at Caltech, and principal investigator on the project.

"The Molecular Programming Project is one of the 'outputs' from our investment in the Information Science and Technology (IST) initiative over the years," says co-investigator Richard M. Murray, the Thomas E. and Doris Everhart Professor of Control and Dynamical Systems and director of the IST program at Caltech. "The Expeditions program is intended to identify future directions in computing that have the potential to lead to 'revolutionary' changes. The collaborations between the various investigators, many of which were funded by IST, were instrumental in bringing together the team of researchers who are embarking on this project," he says. Examples include research projects and workshops funded by Caltech's Center for Biological Circuit Design, an IST initiative.

The Expeditions in Computing award, sponsored by the NSF's Directorate for Computer and Information Science and Engineering, is designed to provide investigators with the opportunity to pursue "ambitious, fundamental research agendas that promise to define the future of computing and information."

The other members of the collaboration are Jehoshua (Shuki) Bruck, the Gordon and Betty Moore Professor of Computation and Neural Systems and Electrical Engineering at Caltech; Niles A. Pierce, associate professor of applied and computational mathematics and bioengineering at Caltech; Paul W. Rothemund, senior research associate in bioengineering, computer science, and computation and neural systems at Caltech; and Eric Klavins, assistant professor of electrical engineering at the University of Washington in Seattle.

Source: California Institute of Technology

Explore further: Best of Last Week – First map of hidden universe, pursuit of compact fusion and new clues about the causes of depression

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Scientists identify "naïve-like" human stem cell

12 hours ago

Scientists from our university and Berlin have identified a type of human stem cell that appears to be "naïve-like" – able to develop into any type of cell. The discovery of this cell type could potentially ...

New light on the 'split peak' of alcohols

Oct 14, 2014

For scientists probing the electronic structure of materials using a relatively new technique called resonant inelastic soft X-ray scattering (RIXS) in the last few years, a persistent question has been how ...

Building a bridge from basic botany to applied agriculture

Oct 14, 2014

One of the planet's leading questions is how to produce enough food to feed the world in an increasingly variable climate. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations predicts that food production ...

Recommended for you

Secrets of dinosaur ecology found in fragile amber

18 hours ago

Ryan McKellar's research sounds like it was plucked from Jurassic Park: he studies pieces of amber found buried with dinosaur skeletons. But rather than re-creating dinosaurs, McKellar uses the tiny pieces ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

E_L_Earnhardt
not rated yet Aug 19, 2008
Good News! The cell is a computer! Chemists have been "out of their league" for years! Now, perhaps we can begin to understand the science of cell malfunction! "The Living Cell is an electronic device!"