ior. Computer scientists in synthetic biology teams
help design the DNA fragments that must be
inserted into a living cell and verify that the resulting
genetic network is robust in the sense that small
variations within the engineered cell mechanism are
tolerated and will not result in malfunction.
The annual iGEM competition mentioned earlier
is backed by a number of corporations, including
Microsoft, which has established a systems biology
group at its Research Center in Cambridge, England; researchers there explore the applications of
Milner’s -calculus—developed to check the properties of mobile hardware, like cell phones—in systems
biology. Ensuring that within a certain area a given
number of calls can be handled properly by a
provider’s technology has counterparts in systems
biology. As such, a team led by Luca Cardelli, a
Microsoft computer scientist in Cambridge, who
previously engaged in research aimed at ensuring the
correctness of distributed programs, is today developing formal languages to describe cell behavior [ 6].
Even if systems and synthetic biology experiments
look simplistic, they are indeed the early prototypes
of major advances in the field. With the help of
computer science, researchers and engineers will
achieve the progress needed to transform systems
and synthetic biology from pure science to indus-trial-scale reality. c
1. Campbell, A.M. Meeting report: Synthetic biology jamboree for undergraduates. Cell Biology Education 4, 1 (Spring 2005), 19– 23.
2. Dijkstra, E. W. Solution of a problem in concurrent programming control. Commun. ACM 8, 9 (Sept. 1965), 569.
3. Gardner, T.S., Cantor, C.R., and Collins, J.J. Construction of a genetic
toggle switch in Escherichia coli. Nature 403, 6767 (Jan. 2000).
4. Hopkin, K. Life: The next generation: Engineers and biologists team up
to create synthetic biological systems. The Scientist 18, 19 (Oct. 2004).
5. Kitano, H. Systems biology: A brief overview. Science 295, (Mar. 2002).
6. Phillips, A., Cardelli, L., and Castagna, G. A graphical representation for
biological processes in the stochastic pi-calculus. Transactions in Computational Systems Biology LN in CS 4230 (Nov. 2006), 123–152.
7. Pollack, A. The race to read genomes on a shoestring, relatively speaking. New York Times (Feb. 9, 2008).
8. Shapiro, E. and Benenson, Y. Bringing DNA computers to life. Scientific
American 294, 5 (May 2006), 45– 51.
JACQUES COHEN ( firstname.lastname@example.org) is the TJX/Feldberg
Professor of Computer Science in the Department of Computer
Science at Brandeis University, Waltham, MA.
© 2008 ACM 0001-0782/08/0500 $5.00
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