Adams and Napp designed a tool that can take probabilistic representations of unknowns in the world (probabilistic graphical models, in the language of machine learning) and compile them into a set of chemical reactions that estimate quantities that cannot be observed directly. The key insight is that the dynamics of chemical reactions map directly onto the two types of computational steps that computer scientists would normally perform in silico to achieve the same end.
This insight opens up interesting new questions for computer scientists working on statistical machine learning, such as how to develop novel algorithms and models that are specifically tailored to tackling the uncertainty molecular engineers typically face. In addition to the long-term possibilities for smart therapeutics, it could also open the door for analyzing natural biological reaction pathways and regulatory networks as mechanisms that are performing statistical inference. Just like robots, biological cells must estimate external environmental states and act on them; designing artificial systems that perform these tasks could give scientists a better understanding of how such problems might be solved on a molecular level inside living systems.
"There is much ongoing research to develop chemical computational devices," says Napp, a postdoctoral fellow at the Wyss Institute, working on the Bioinspired Robotics platform, and a member of the Self-organizing Systems Research group at SEAS. Both groups are led by Radhika Nagpal, the Fred Kavli Professor of Computer Science at SEAS and a Wyss core faculty member. At the Wyss Institute, a portion of Napp's research involves developing new types of robotic devices that move and adapt like living creatures.
"What makes this project different is that, instead of aiming for general computation, we focused
|Contact: Caroline Perry|