"New and improved varieties will inevitably supplant and exterminate the older,
less improved and intermediate varieties..."               

                                           - Charles Darwin

Harnessing Evolution

Biological engineering is challenging because evolved systems are more complex than those designed by humans.  As a rule, there are many more interactions between biological molecules than there are between the components of human technologies such as microprocessors, which are universally designed for simplicity and modularity.  This complexity severely limits the effectiveness of engineering approaches based on rational design. 

By learning to evolve biological systems to acquire and optimize useful characteristics, our creations can approach the remarkable effectiveness of natural living systems.

Projects in this area seek to apply and develop new evolutionary engineering approaches to accelerate the discovery of new biotechnologies and improve our control over natural and synthetic biological systems. 

We adopt many different directed evolution methods depending on the problem of interest, but one of our favorites is the phage-assisted continuous evolution system (PACE).  In particular, we're working to use a liquid-handling robot to run hundreds or even thousands of PACE experiments simultaneously.

This is analogous to taking the logic of directed evolution one level higher. Don't know which mutations will give you the desired molecular activity? Try a few hundred million, find the ones that work best, make a few hundred million variants of those, and repeat - that's directed evolution.

But what should the mutation rate be? Which set of conditions defines "works best"? The same logic should hold: try a few hundred different combinations with several replicates of each, observe how each population of a hundred million evolves, and find out. With robotic PACE, we intend to do just that.