Cybergenetics: Theory and Tools for Biomolecular Control Systems


Department of Biosystems Science and Engineering, ETHZ, Zurich, CH


   Humans have been influencing the DNA of plants and animals for thousands of years through selective breeding. Yet it is only over the last 3 decades or so that we have gained the ability to manipulate the DNA itself and directly alter its sequences through the modern tools of genetic engineering. This has revolutionized biotechnology and ushered in the new era of synthetic biology.

   Among the possible applications enabled by synthetic biology is the design and engineering of feedback control systems that steer the dynamic behavior of living cells in real time. Such controllers can be implemented on a computer and interfaced with living cells especially engineered to sense control inputs and respond to them. Alternatively, the control systems may themselves be genetically engineered into living cells as networks of biomolecules that achieve feedback function when interfaced with endogenous networks. We refer to the set of methods to design and build such control systems and the resulting technology as Cybergenetics--a genetics era realization of Norbert Wiener's cybernetics vision.

   In this talk, we present our ideas on the design and synthesis of cybergenetic control systems and discuss the main theoretical and practical challenges in their design and implementation. We also explain the potential impact such cybergenetic systems can have on industrial biotechnology and medical therapy.