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- Micro-bio-robotic communication: Multicellular pattern formation and detection with visible and ultraviolet light
Project Summary: Programmable Bacteria
MBRs will execute sophisticated algorithms that will enable them to sense, compute,
amplify, and communicate their internal state, as well as directly sense and modify their
environment. We will focus on designing an extendable platform of synthetic biology
components and gene network modules. While bacteria can serve as simple and robust
environmental biosensors by linking natural two-component signaling motifs and promoters to
reporter genes like green fluorescent protein, we will engineer richer signal processing and
programmed behavior using novel, engineered biomolecular sensors (e.g., two-component
signaling motifs) targeted against a panel of key analytes (e.g., explosives, toxins, environmental cues, light, salinity, etc.), and then use their output to drive synthetic gene networks. We will
establish sensor profiles indicative of particular environmental conditions and use these to drive
synthetic gene networks, creating programmable bacteria specific to operational conditions.
These gene networks will enable signal processing and communication within living systems.
For example, digital processing is possible using memory , multi-input logic , and
specialized circuits such as counters  and edge detectors . Analog circuits can enable an
even broader set of processing functions, such as filters  and timers . A potential processor
could, for example, combine multiple inputs, such as salinity, temperature, light, and mechanical
stress, via NOT and AND gates to gauge sea depth and conditions. Depending upon the
environment’s profile, there will likely be situations for data acquired where a ratio of two sensor
activities, not absolute activities, is indicative of an interesting or relevant environmental
condition. We will create ratio calculator circuits to respond to these environments.
Alternatively, where the order of environmental cues is important, we will create sequential
signal detection networks to respond to specific sequences of sensor activation.
Novel signal processing and logic gene circuits have been developed by our labs, as well as
intercellular communication circuits [7, 8], and we will integrate these modules to form
subroutines in more advanced algorithms. These programs will allow our MBRs to conduct
autonomous decision-making, and thus modify their behavior in a swarm. As an example,
engineered promoters can drive memory units, such as genetic toggle switches  or invertase
memory modules , for the purpose of adaptation, a fundamental computational step that
allows for a broad range of decision making and self-regulation.
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