Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Protocell and other thoughts

I'm pleased to note that the traffic from Richard Jones' blog is already beginning to generate comments. One of those asked the following:

He implied that you might be keeping us up to date on the
Protocell project. Is that true, or will it pretty much happen through your general coverage of bio-computing?

I'll certainly be keeping a close eye on this project, and its partner PACE project (see below). Regular updates on both will appear here.


I had always thought that practical bio-computing would require some kind of lab-on-a-chip capability where you have a bunch of microfluidic pumps and sensors that maintain individual cells in their own little wells or something like that. Do you think that sort of thing is important for bio-computing and if so, how far off is that kind of capability?

Microfluidics are certainly interesting (indeed, John McCaskill, head of PACE, has done a lot of work on using these systems to implement DNA-based algorithms.) However, I'm not sure how applicable they will be to in vivo computation. Certainly, immobilisation or control of cellular positioning may be important in applications such as biosensing, but I think that the future of this may be in the integration of living cells with micro- or nano-scale systems such as the array of
carbon nanofibres developed by Mike Simpson's group at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. See the book Cellular Computing (below) for a couple of chapters on this work, or go directly to Mike's lab web page.

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