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Life as Computation

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The 20th Century was transformed by the ability to program on silicon. Companies such as Microsoft, Apple, Samsung and Google owe their existence to this single innovation, making possible technologies that have revolutionised how the world works. As we face global challenges in health, food production, and in powering an increasingly energy-greedy planet, it is becoming clear that the 21st Century could be equally transformed by the advent of programming on an entirely different material: biological matter. The power to program biology could transform medicine, agriculture and energy, but relies, fundamentally, on an understanding of biological computation. We are compelled to consider biochemistry as molecular machinery in the service of biological information-processing and decision-making. My talk will focus on the need for new approaches to understanding biological computation, in addition to how, in collaboration with experimentalists at the University of Cambridge, we have made progress in understanding the programs that govern decision-making in embryonic stem cells.


Sara-Jane Dunn is a Scientist working within the Biological Computation group at Microsoft Research. She studied Mathematics at the University of Oxford, graduating with an MMath in 2007. She remained in Oxford to complete her DPhil. in 2010, having worked within the Computational Biology group at the Department of Computer Science. Subsequently, she joined Microsoft Research as a postdoctoral researcher before transitioning to a permanent position in 2014.

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