Endogenous bioelectric computation controls growth and form in non-neural tissues: opportunities for regenerative medicine and synthetic morphology
Tuesday, Aug 23, 2016
1:00pm - 2:00pm
Wyss Institute, Room 521, 3 Blackfan Circle, Boston MA
Regenerative medicine, synthetic bioengineering, cancer, aging, and many other fields intersect at one fundamental problem: the dynamic control of large-scale biological pattern. Transformative advances require not only control of individual cell identity, but the ability to program growth and form top-down, to desired anatomical specifications. Data from developmental and regenerative biology suggests that we could offload the computational complexity of tasks such as rebuilding whole limbs onto cell networks. For example, planaria are complex metazoans that regenerate every part of their body, have defeated aging, and maintain a highly plastic population of adult stem cells without an oncogenic cost.
What computational processes allow cells in vivo to cooperate toward the creation, remodeling, and repair of complex 3-dimensional structures? How do cells know what structures to rebuild, and when to stop? In this talk, I will frame the problem of adaptive pattern control from two perspectives, merging cybernetics and programmable matter with molecular embryology.
Our work has revealed a novel set of controls that allow somatic tissues to store and process information about the organism’s target morphology. Endogenous bioelectric gradients, created by ion channels, regulate cell proliferation, migration, and differentiation, offering a uniquely tractable control point for bioengineers. More importantly, the systems dynamics of bioelectrical circuits instructively control size, shape, and geometric arrangement of organs. During embryogenesis, regeneration, and cancer suppression, many tissues form networks via electrical synapses, encoding and recalling pattern memories. This occurs via some of the same molecular pathways and algorithms that have become exploited by the brain for integrated, top-down control over behavior.
I will discuss the technology we developed to read and write bioelectric prepatterns, their striking use to permanently reprogram organisms’ target morphologies without editing genomes, and our attempts to crack the bioelectric code.