Andrew PhillipsView all speakers
Andrew Phillips is head of the Biological Computation Group at Microsoft Research Cambridge, where he is conducting research into programming languages and methods for simulating and analysing biological systems. Andrew received a postgraduate degree in Computer Science from the University of Cambridge, under a scholarship from the Barbados government. He pursued a PhD in the Department of Computing at Imperial College London, where he worked on theory and implementation of concurrent, distributed programming languages.
He joined Microsoft Research Cambridge in 2005, to conduct research at the intersection of programming language theory and biological modelling. In 2011 he received a Technology Review TR35 award for work on software for computer-assisted genetic engineering. The award recognises technology innovators under the age of 35. His hobbies include snowboarding and kite-surfing.
Cells are the building blocks of life. If we could program living cells as effectively as we program digital computers we could make breakthroughs in medical treatment, sustainable agriculture and clean energy, while also better understanding how living systems compute. In spite of this potential there are still many challenges to overcome. Programming cells is highly complex and error-prone, and we are at a point where powerful computer software could significantly accelerate further progress. This talk presents ongoing work to develop computer languages for programming cells at three levels: molecular circuits, genetic devices and cell colonies. We present a language for programming molecular circuits made of DNA, and for characterising genetic parts that can be combined into devices for programming cell function. Finally, we present software for simulating cell biofilms using 3D biophysical methods, which can be used to predict the effect of cell shape on colony morphology. Just as languages for programming digital computers heralded a new era of technology, languages for programming cells could enable new industries in biotechnology.