Distributed biological computation with multicellular engineered networks

Nature. 2011 Jan 13;469(7329):207-11. doi: 10.1038/nature09679. Epub 2010 Dec 8.


Ongoing efforts within synthetic and systems biology have been directed towards the building of artificial computational devices using engineered biological units as basic building blocks. Such efforts, inspired in the standard design of electronic circuits, are limited by the difficulties arising from wiring the basic computational units (logic gates) through the appropriate connections, each one to be implemented by a different molecule. Here, we show that there is a logically different form of implementing complex Boolean logic computations that reduces wiring constraints thanks to a redundant distribution of the desired output among engineered cells. A practical implementation is presented using a library of engineered yeast cells, which can be combined in multiple ways. Each construct defines a logic function and combining cells and their connections allow building more complex synthetic devices. As a proof of principle, we have implemented many logic functions by using just a few engineered cells. Of note, small modifications and combination of those cells allowed for implementing more complex circuits such as a multiplexer or a 1-bit adder with carry, showing the great potential for re-utilization of small parts of the circuit. Our results support the approach of using cellular consortia as an efficient way of engineering complex tasks not easily solvable using single-cell implementations.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bioengineering*
  • Candida albicans
  • Cell Compartmentation
  • Colony Count, Microbial
  • Doxycycline / pharmacology
  • Estradiol / pharmacology
  • Galactose / pharmacology
  • Logic*
  • Mating Factor
  • Models, Biological*
  • Peptides / metabolism
  • Peptides / pharmacology
  • Pheromones / metabolism
  • Pheromones / pharmacology
  • Saccharomyces cerevisiae / cytology*
  • Saccharomyces cerevisiae / drug effects
  • Saccharomyces cerevisiae / metabolism*
  • Sodium Chloride / pharmacology
  • Systems Biology / methods*


  • Peptides
  • Pheromones
  • Sodium Chloride
  • Estradiol
  • Mating Factor
  • Doxycycline
  • Galactose