Programming Life

Posted on Jul 11, 2009

If you think Windows and Mac and Solaris are different, look at the diversity that DNA engenders!

Austin Che challenges us to look at DNA as a language. In the same way that bits are the building blocks of computer languages, ATCG bases are the building blocks of natural language. In the same way that the interpreter takes Ruby code and turns that into machine code, so that it can run on the CPU, RNA takes DNA and turns that into protein that can be used in a cell.

I hope to god I can find his “Coding style” slide because it’s a riot.

Humans are giving a crack at using these kinds of techniques. Synthetic biology is a field that deals with synthesizing and using these genetic codes.

But it’s crazy hard! Imagine programming where bits could appear, disappear and decay at random. Imagine programming where code can change form, either through mutation or flat out splicing another part of the program in.

Where are we now? We can make bacteria smell specific ways. We can make them reflect light in a particular way to spell letters or display images. We can train them as edge detectors and perform some basic signal processing.

There are such incredible challenges and amazing things happening in this field, that it is quite scary to me. The end of the talk was about reconstructing the polio virus with off the shelf components.

This is a real big thing, and I hope to update this post with some of my findings after the conference ends. I found it incredibly interesting.

(Ed. This work informed Ginkgo Bioworks)