Seelig uses programming skills to understand cells
March 8, 2010 | UW Bioengineering
A single human cell can build itself into an entire human body. Tapping into our cells’ remarkable programming secrets could lead to sophisticated drug delivery systems targeted at diseased tissue and able to avoid surrounding healthy tissue.
Georg Seelig, a newly appointed adjunct assistant professor in Bioengineering, is attempting to program biological systems within cells to be intensely targeted. He brings a programming and electrical engineering perspective to the challenge, which dovetails well with smart therapeutic drug research already under way in Bioengineering. He is looking into what happens after the therapeutic is inside the cell and how he can build biological systems within the cell environment, a study within the relatively new field of synthetic biology. Smart drugs are designed to target to a particular site or cell in the body and avoid others.
His adjunct appointment makes collaborating with Bioengineering faculty more feasible and opens the doors for him to supervise Bioengineering graduate students.
Seelig’s primary appointments are in Computer Science and Engineering and Electrical Engineering.
“Molecular programming, which is what I’m doing, explores how we program cellular systems in the same way that we program electronic devices,” Seelig says. “It’s obvious that it is possible because biology does it all the time. A program in a cell or cell network somehow gets executed and makes itself into something new.
“We aim to build similar systems using nucleic acids as an engineering material for building circuitry, control systems, etc. By using the design rules of electronics we will be able to build new biological systems.”
Seelig sees a strong potential overlap in his research with the Bioengineering department’s interest in medical applications and drug delivery at the cellular level. In fact, he is already collaborating with Herbert Sauro in teaching a three-course sequence on synthetic biology along with Eric Klavins, associate professor in Electrical Engineering.
“Our lab’s take on gene regulation is to build new circuitry that might have interesting applications and to better understand how smart therapeutics work,” Seelig says.