Redox Is a Global Biodevice Information Processing Modality

Proc IEEE Inst Electr Electron Eng. 2019 Jul;107(7):1402-1424. doi: 10.1109/JPROC.2019.2908582. Epub 2019 Apr 29.


Biology is well-known for its ability to communicate through (i) molecularly-specific signaling modalities and (ii) a globally-acting electrical modality associated with ion flow across biological membranes. Emerging research suggests that biology uses a third type of communication modality associated with a flow of electrons through reduction/oxidation (redox) reactions. This redox signaling modality appears to act globally and has features of both molecular and electrical modalities: since free electrons do not exist in aqueous solution, the electrons must flow through molecular intermediates that can be switched between two states - with electrons (reduced) or without electrons (oxidized). Importantly, this global redox modality is easily accessible through its electrical features using convenient electrochemical instrumentation. In this review, we explain this redox modality, describe our electrochemical measurements, and provide four examples demonstrating that redox enables communication between biology and electronics. The first two examples illustrate how redox probing can acquire biologically relevant information. The last two examples illustrate how redox inputs can transduce biologically-relevant transitions for patterning and the induction of a synbio transceiver for two-hop molecular communication. In summary, we believe redox provides a unique ability to bridge bio-device communication because simple electrochemical methods enable global access to biologically meaningful information. Further, we envision that redox may facilitate the application of information theory to the biological sciences.

Keywords: bioelectronics; electrobiofabrication; molecular communication; reverse engineering; signal processing.