Cellular Computing – A Moonshot Project
Jerome Bonnet starts his Solve for X talk discussing the insulin pen. Several million people have to use the insulin pen several times a day or face serious health consequences. Bonnet says that if the body’s cells could be programmed individually that the need for insulin could be met. Further, he would like to be able to modify cells to create new working organs to replace the organs that are malfunctioning.
Cancer cells are another example of an application for cellular computing. Chemotherapy attacks and destroys cancer cells but also cause damage to several good cells in the body. Using algorithms and targeting only the cancer cells could make chemotherapy easier on the patient. Bonnet and his team from the Centre de Biochimie Structurale de Montpellier are trying to take ideas from computing and programming, and apply those ideas to cellular manipulation.
Binary inputs and boolean logic gates were the first phase of the cellular manipulation. The team was able to send chemical signals in the body to move back and forth between green fluorescent proteins (0) and red fluorescent proteins (1). Using the properties of transistors a genetic switch can be created that allows RNA polymerase to either pass through or be rejected.
The current goal of the project is to use the cellular computer for diagnosis. Taking a patient sample and adding in engineered bacteria will allow the team to find the biomarkers of disease. First tests were done searching for glucose using alginate beads to test for diabetes. Current tests are being done on several species including e coli, flies, mice, plants, frogs, zebrafish and some human cells.
Bonnet’s talk is full of ideas and high level concepts. His use of graphics helps to push these ideas while explaining some of the concepts in entry level electronics and logic terms. There’s also a clear focus on the ethical concerns on this work. At the conclusion of the talk he asks the collective Solve for X viewing community to help create a framework to make sure this technology is used for the good of the community, and the good of the planet.