Molecular biology has revealed the central role of information-based chemistry within living things: genetic information stored within DNA codes for molecular machines that interact to control the inner workings of cells and how cells interact with each other to create organisms. Modifying that information through genetic engineering allows synthetic biologists to reprogram biological function, both for better understanding biological mechanisms and for developing application in medicine, chemistry, and agriculture. More generally, molecular programming studies the foundations and applications of programmable molecular machinery, from theoretical models of computation based on biochemistry to the experimental design and synthesis of complex devices and systems using DNA nanotechnology and other biotechnology. Ultimately, this may lead toward a general technology for information-based synthetic chemical systems with properties and capabilities as broad as those exhibited by biological systems.
Caltech faculty in CMS include Richard Murray (biological circuit design, synthetic cells), Niles Pierce (programmable conditional regulation, programmable bioimaging and diagnostics, computational sequence analysis and design), Lulu Qian (DNA neural networks, molecular robotics), Paul Rothemund (DNA origami, biosensors), and Erik Winfree (algorithmic self-assembly and morphogenesis). Research in this area has strong interactions with faculty beyond CMS, including Frances Arnold (ChE, synthetic biology and directed evolution), Jehoshua Bruck (EE, information theory and computation), Michael Elowitz (BBE, synthetic biology and circuitry), Stephen Mayo (BBE, protein design), Matt Thomson (BBE, information in biology), Kaihang Wang (BBE, synthetic genomes).