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SynBio Forum: Engineering Complex Systems in Biology

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  • UserSabine Hauert (Assistant Professor in Robotics, University of Bristol), Ricard Sole (Research professor at Catalan Institute for Research and Advanced Studies, head of Complex Systems Lab)
  • ClockMonday 29 October 2018, 14:00-18:00
  • HouseOld Divinity School, St Johns Street, Cambridge.

If you have a question about this talk, please contact Alexandra Ting.

Join us for our termly SynBio Forum as we explore engineering complex systems in biology. We’ll start with short talks on AI tools and methods by Mathworks, Nvidia, Microsoft Research (and more) followed by keynote presentations by Sabine Hauert and Ricard Sole. Afternoon tea, a dinner buffet and a drinks reception will be provided for discussion and networking opportunities. Register now! Limited seats available.

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2:00-3:15pm Short talks on artificial intelligence tools and methods by Microsoft Research, Nvidia, Mathworks, and more.

3:15-4:00pm Afternoon tea

4:00-4:45pm “Swarm engineering across scales”

Sabine Hauert (Assistant professor of robotics at University of Bristol)

Swarm engineering allows us to design self organised systems that work in large numbers and at small scales. Swarm strategies are either inspired from nature (ant colonies, fish shoals, bird flocks, cellular systems) or are automatically discovered using machine learning and crowdsourcing. Demonstrated applications range from the deployment of swarms of flying robots to create outdoor communication networks, or the use of 1000 coin-sized robots to form structures and explore the environment, to the design of nanoparticles and synthetic bacteria for biomedical applications. Ultimately, we aim to develop a unified framework for the engineering of swarms across scales.

4:45-5:30pm “Major synthetic transitions: from protocells to Earth’s Terraformation”

Ricard Sole (ICREA research professor (Catalan Institute for Research and Advanced Studied), Universitat Pompeu Fabra, head of the Complex Systems Lab)

Evolution is marked by well-defined events involving profound innovations that are known as ‘major evolutionary transitions’. They involve the integration of autonomous elements into a new, higher-level organization whereby the former isolated units interact in novel ways, losing their original autonomy. All major transitions, which span multiple scales and include the origin of life, cells, multicellular systems, societies or language (among other examples), took place millions of years ago. Are these transitions unique, rare events? Have they instead universal traits that make them almost inevitable when the right pieces are in place? Are there general laws of evolutionary innovation? In order to approach this problem under a novel perspective, we argue that a parallel class of evolutionary transitions can be explored involving the use of artificial evolutionary experiments where alternative paths to innovation can be explored. These ‘synthetic’ transitions include, for example, the creation of nanocells, the artificial evolution of multicellular systems or the emergence of language in evolved communicating robots. Moreover, we can also consider the creation of synthetic ecosystems and how to use them to engineer our biosphere. These alternative scenarios could help us to understand the underlying laws that predate the rise of major innovations and the possibility for general laws of evolved complexity.

5:30pm and onwards Dinner buffet and drinks reception

This talk is part of the Engineering Biology Interdisciplinary Research Centre series.

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