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Toward engineering biosystems with emergent collective functions

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Harold Fellermann



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


Many complex behaviors in biological systems emerge from large populations of interacting molecules or cells, generating functions that go beyond the capabilities of the individual parts. Such collective phenomena are of great interest to bioengineers due to their robustness and scalability. However, engineering emergent collective functions is difficult because they arise as a consequence of complex multi-level feedback, which often spans many length-scales. Here, we present a perspective on how some of these challenges could be overcome by using multi-agent modeling as a design framework within synthetic biology. Using case studies covering the construction of synthetic ecologies to biological computation and synthetic cellularity, we show how multi-agent modeling can capture the core features of complex multi-scale systems and provide novel insights into the underlying mechanisms which guide emergent functionalities across scales. The ability to unravel design rules underpinning these behaviors offers a means to take synthetic biology beyond single molecules or cells and toward the creation of systems with functions that can only emerge from collectives at multiple scales.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Gorochowski TE, Hauert S, Kreft JU, Marucci L, Stillman NR, Dora Tang TY, Bandiera L, Bartoli V, Dixon DOR, Fedorec AJH, Fellermann H, Fletcher AG, Foster T, Giuggioli L, Matyjaszkiewicz A, McCormick S, Montes Olivas S, Naylor J, Denniss AR, Ward D

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Frontiers in Bioengineering and Biotechnology

Year: 2021

Volume: 8

Online publication date: 26/06/2020

Acceptance date: 05/06/2020

Date deposited: 20/10/2021

ISSN (electronic): 2296-4185

Publisher: Frontiers Media SA


DOI: 10.3389/fbioe.2020.00705


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