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Invited Talk

What Bodies Think About: Bioelectric Computation Outside the Nervous System, Primitive Cognition, and Synthetic Morphology

Michael Levin

Room 220 CD


Brains are not unique in their computational abilities. Bacteria, plants, and unicellular organisms exhibit learning and plasticity; nervous systems speed-optimized information-processing that is ubiquitous across the tree of life and was already occurring at multiple scales before neurons evolved. Non-neural computation is especially critical for enabling individual cells to coordinate their activity toward the creation and repair of complex large-scale anatomies. We have found that bioelectric signaling enables all types of cells to form networks that store pattern memories that guide large-scale growth and form. In this talk, I will introduce the basics of developmental bioelectricity, and show how novel conceptual and methodological advances have enabled rewriting pattern memories that guide morphogenesis without genomic editing. In effect, these strategies allow reprogramming the bioelectric software that implements multicellular patterning goal states. I will show examples of applications in regenerative medicine and cognitive neuroplasticity, and illustrate future impacts on synthetic bioengineering, robotics, and machine learning.

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