Engineering biological cells to perform computations has a broad range of important potential applications, including precision medical therapies, biosynthesis process control, and environmental sensing. Implementing predictable and effective computation, however, has been extremely difficult to date, due to a combination of poor composability of available parts and of insufficient characterization of parts and their interactions with the complex environment in which they operate. In this paper, the author argues that this situation can be improved by quantitative signal-to-noise analysis of the relationship between computational abstractions and the variation and uncertainty endemic in biological organisms. This analysis takes the form of a ΔSNRdB function for each computational device, which can be computed from measurements of a device's input/output curve and expression noise. These functions can then be combined to predict how well a circuit will implement an intended computation, as well as evaluating the general suitability of biological devices for engineering computational circuits. Applying signal-to-noise analysis to current repressor libraries shows that no library is currently sufficient for general circuit engineering, but also indicates key targets to remedy this situation and vastly improve the range of computations that can be used effectively in the implementation of biological applications.
Beal, J. (2015). Signal-to-Noise Ratio Measures Efficacy of Biological Computing Devices and Circuits. Frontiers in Bioengineering and Biotechnology, 3. https://doi.org/10.3389/fbioe.2015.00093