Biocomputation with motile biological agents

Dan V. Nicolau, Professor, McGill University

Abstract: Many important mathematical problems, ranging from cryptography, network routing, and protein folding, require the exploration a large number of candidate solutions. Because the time required for solving these problems grows exponentially with their size, electronic computers, which operate sequentially, cannot solve them in a reasonable timeframe. Unfortunately, the parallel-computation approaches proposed so far, e.g., DNA-, and quantum-computing suffer from fundamental and practical drawbacks, which prevented their successful implementation. On the other hand, biological entities, from microorganisms to humans, process information in parallel, routinely, for essential tasks, such as foraging, searching for available space, competition, and cooperation. In the general field of using biology as computation comprises reverse engineering of biological algorithms, simulation of traffic with biological entities, e.g., slime mold, and actual computation with biological agents. The bio-network computing consists in the use of very large number of agents exploring purposefully-designed microfluidics networks. We reported the foundations of a parallel-computation system in which a given combinatorial problem is encoded into a graphical, modular network that is embedded in a nanofabricated planar device. Exploring the network in a parallel fashion using a very large number of independent, agents, e.g., molecular motor-propelled agents, bacteria, then solves the mathematical problem. This approach uses orders of magnitude less energy than conventional computers, thus addressing issues related to power consumption and heat dissipation.

Biography: Dan V. Nicolau, who is Maria Zelenka Roy Chair of Bioengineering, and the founding Chair of the Department of Bioengineering at McGill University, has a PhD in Chemical Engineering, a MS in Cybernetics, Informatics & Statistics and a MEng in Polymer Science & Engineering. He has published more than 120 papers in peer-reviewed scientific journals, a similar number of full papers in conference proceedings and 6 book chapters. Dan has co-edited one book on microarray technology and applications, and edited or co-edited the proceedings of more than 40 international conferences. He is a Fellow of the International Society of Optical Engineering (SPIE), Editor-in-Chief of IEEE Transactions on NanoBioscience, and Editor of Biosensors & Bioelectronics (Elsevier), and Scientific Reports (Nature-Springer). His present research aggregates around three themes: (i) intelligent-like behavior of microorganisms in confined spaces, which manifests in the process of survival and growth; (ii) dynamic micro/nanodevices, such as microfluidics/lab-on-a-chip, and devices based on protein molecular motors, with applications in diagnosis, drug discovery and biocomputation; and (iii) micro/nano-structured surfaces for biomedical microdevices.