Cells may be thought of as wet ‘computers' and are used
by biological organisms for processing environmental information
and forming appropriate responses (among other things). Instead
of wire, diodes and capacitors, cells use networks of chemical
reactions to transmit and modify environmental signals to the
cell nucleus or to neighbouring cells.
These signalling networks are critical to many key processes
and events in an organisms life - from the fundamental ‘big
questions', such as: how is a adult organism formed from a
fertilised egg (developmental biology)?; what is the cause (and
cure) for cancer; how does the brain work?, to important
physiological functions such as how is bone density regulated and
what causes the heart to contract.
Developing a greater understanding of any of these processes
would be enormously beneficial. Applications include regenerative
medicine, drug target identification in a range of diseases
(including cancer), metabolic engineering for drug manufacture
and bioremediation, and the prevention of birth defects.
A common characteristic of these signalling networks is their
complexity. The techniques of engineering and mathematics can be
used to understand these complex systems. Unfortunately most biologists
do not have this knowledge base. Likewise most engineers do not have knowledge of
biology. There is an enormous role for biologically-literate
engineers in this area.
Projects within this research theme are: