Bio Electronic Information Processing: An Emerging Technology

W. Bentley
University of Maryland,
United States

Keywords: Bio Electronic Information Processing


Microelectronics has transformed our lives. It has changed the way we collect, process, and transmit information. The intersection between microelectronics and biology has also been transformative – ionic currents that control cardiovascular and neural systems are detected and even corrected using electronics (e.g., EKG & defibrillators). Yet, the microelectronics world has barely “sampled” the vast repertoire of chemical information in our biological world. In biology, information is often contained in the structure of its molecules – molecules that move from place to place and based on their structure, convey information and provoke a response. We envision new processes and deployable products that open the dialogue between biology and microelectronics – that eavesdrop on and manipulate biological systems within their own settings and in ways that speed corrective actions. First, to interrogate biological systems, especially the molecules that confer function (melanin, albumin, even therapeutic antibodies), we have created a new pathway that exploits molecular electronic signatures based on redox, oxidation/reduction, and simple electrodes. Then, we view biofabrication and synthetic biology as integral technologies for achieving more indepth assessment and even feedback control. Synthetic biology, often visualized as an innovative means for “green” product synthesis through the genetic rearrangement of cells, can also provide a means to connect biological systems with microelectronic devices. Cells can be reprogrammed to close the communication gap that exists between the electrons and photons of devices and the molecules and ions of biology. Biofabrication, the assembly of biological components using biological means or mimics thereof, offers a means to close the fabrication gap – a gap that stems from the disparity between biological systems, assembled of labile components using built-in error correction, and devices, built of potentially toxic materials using error prevention and byproduct exclusion. Here, innovative materials, electronics, biomolecular and cellular engineering strategies can be developed to mediate “molecular” communication - information transfer to microelectronic systems and back. New sensing systems and actuation devices will emerge based on bidirectional communication. Our systems provide rapid assessment of biological function – on molecules such as antibody therapeutics, materials such as melanin, and even physiological “stress” in human sera. We will further show how rapid assessment can, in turn, lead to real time electronic feedback control of gene expression in biohybrid devices via an electronic CRISPR. We envision applications that span environments and industries.