Thursday, May 18, 2006

Synthetic Biology review

(Subscription may be required).

Synthetic biology: new engineering rules for an emerging discipline

Ernesto Andrianantoandro, Subhayu Basu1, David K Karig and Ron Weiss

Molecular Systems Biology 2 doi:10.1038/msb4100073

Synthetic biologists engineer complex artificial biological systems to investigate natural biological phenomena and for a variety of applications. We outline the basic features of synthetic biology as a new engineering discipline, covering examples from the latest literature and reflecting on the features that make it unique among all other existing engineering fields. We discuss methods for designing and constructing engineered cells with novel functions in a framework of an abstract hierarchy of biological devices, modules, cells, and multicellular systems. The classical engineering strategies of standardization, decoupling, and abstraction will have to be extended to take into account the inherent characteristics of biological devices and modules. To achieve predictability and reliability, strategies for engineering biology must include the notion of cellular context in the functional definition of devices and modules, use rational redesign and directed evolution for system optimization, and focus on accomplishing tasks using cell populations rather than individual cells. The discussion brings to light issues at the heart of designing complex living systems and provides a trajectory for future development.

Monday, May 15, 2006


I'm delighted to say that I am leaving Exeter to take up a Senior Lectureship in the Department of Computing and Mathematics at Manchester Metropolitan University.

I was very impressed with the vision and ambition shown at Departmental, Faculty and University level, and am very much looking forward to working there. I start there in mid-June, and new contact details will follow once they are confirmed.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Leonardo in Exeter

We took the little 'un to see the Leonardo da Vinci exhibition that's currently running in Exeter. The museum has done an admirable job in securing a loan of the sketches from the Royal collection, and I felt privileged to be able to examine them at such close quarters.

I was particularly taken with "A study of a woman's hands" (possibly for the portrait of Cecilia Gallerani), c.1490. Quite apart from its possible significance as a study for such a well-known piece, it contained, almost as a doodle, a lovely sketch of a grotesque head in its top left corner.

I also loved "A sheet of pictographs", drawn over an architectural plan, c.1490, also known as rebuses or cryptograms. A detailed description of this sheet is given in Charles Nicholl's biography Leonardo Da Vinci: The Flights of the Mind.

Friday, May 05, 2006

The Great Debate

While at a meeting in Manchester this week I had the pleasure of meeting Caspar Hewett of the University of Newcastle, who, in his spare time, runs an organisation called The Great Debate. To quote the website, "The Great Debate is an umbrella title for a series of courses, day schools, public discussions and workshops on topics including Darwinism, human nature, the human mind, consciousness, development, sustainabilty and environmental thought."

I was greatly impressed by Caspar's energy and commitment, and am glad to offer a link here with the strong recommendation that you visit, and even consider getting involved.