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Catalyzing Inquiry at the Interface of Computing and Biology
Bio:Info:Micro. In collaboration with DSO, IPTO and the Microsystems Technology Office, the Bio:Info:Micro program supports research in neuroprocessing and biological regulatory networks. These research thrusts seek to develop devices for interrogating and manipulating living brains and brain slices (in the neuroprocessing track) and single cells or components thereof (in the regulatory network track), and the computational tools needed to analyze and interpret information derived from these devices. Thus, neural decoding algorithms for neural spikes and local field potentials, and methods for representing spatial components in distributed systems and using decision theoretic approaches for decoding brain signals are of interest to the neuroprocessor track, and algorithms that can automatically detect patterns and networks given appropriate data and models for networks that govern cell growth and death are of interest to the regulatory track.
Biological input/output systems. Focused on the design and assembly of molecular components and pathways that can be used to sense and report the presence of chemical or biological analytes, this program seeks to develop technologies to enable the facile engineering and assembly of functional biological circuits and pathways in living organisms, thereby enabling such organisms to serve as remote sentinels for those analytes. The essential notion is that the binding of an analyte to an engineered cytoplasmic or cell surface receptor will lead to regulated and specific changes in an organism, which might then be observed by imaging, spectroscopy, or DNA analysis.
Simulation of biomolecular microsystems. Biological or chemical microsystems in which biomolecular sensors are integrated with electronic processing elements offer the potential for significant improvements in the speed, sensitivity, specificity, efficiency, and affordability of such systems. This program seeks to develop data, models, and algorithms for the analysis of molecular recognition processes; transduction of molecular recognition signals into measurable optical, electrical, and mechanical signals; and on-chip fluidic-molecular transport phenomena. The ultimate goal is to produce advanced computer-aided design (CAD) tools for routine analysis and design of integrated biomolecular microsystems.
Engineered biomolecular nanodevices and systems. This program is focused on hybrid (biotic-abiotic) nanoscale interface technologies that enable direct, real-time conversion of biomolecular signals into electrical signals. Success in this area would enable engineered systems to exploit the high sensory sensitivity, selectivity, and efficiency that characterize many biological processes. The objective of this research is to develop hybrid biomolecular devices and systems that use biological units (e.g., protein ion channels or nanopores, g-protein-coupled receptors) for performing a sensing function but use silicon circuitry to accomplish the signal processing. Ultimately, this research is intended to lay the foundation for advanced “biology-to-digital” converter systems that enable direct, real-time conversion of biological signals into digital information.
Biologically inspired multifunctional dynamic robots. This program seeks to exploit biological approaches to propulsion mechanisms for multifunctional, dynamic, energy-efficient, and autonomous robotic locomotion (e.g., running over multiple terrains, climbing trees, jumping and leaping, grasping and digging); recognition and navigation mechanisms that enable biological organisms to perform terrain following, grazing incidence landings, target location and tracking, plume tracing, and hive and swarm behavior; and the integration of these capabilities into demonstration robotic platforms.
Compact hybrid actuators program. This program seeks to develop electromechanical and chemomechanical actuators that perform the same functions for engineered systems that muscle performs for animals. The performance goal is that these new actuators must exceed the specific power and power density of traditional electromagnetic- and hydraulic-based actuation systems by a factor of 10.
Active biological warfare sensors. This program seeks to develop technology to place living cells with similar behavior to human cells onto chips, so that their health and behavior can be monitored for the presence of harmful chemical or biological agents.
Protein design processes. This program is using two specific challenge problems to motivate research into technologies for designing novel proteins for specific biological purposes. Such design will require advances in computational models, as well as knowledge of molecular biology. The challenge