Reading and Writing the Morphogenetic Code

The Allen Discovery Center at Tufts University is a center for fundamental research on the mechanisms and algorithms by which groups of cells build and repair complex anatomies. Our mission is to develop tools, models, and applications of reading and re-writing the information processed by biophysical control circuits. Explore the concepts outlined in our White Paper, focused on understanding the physiological software that guides growth and form, and imagine the breakthroughs to come!

The Allen Discovery Center at Tufts University focuses on reading, interpreting, and writing the Morphogenetic Code – an instructive layer of biophysical computations, that lies between the genomically-specified protein hardware of cells and the complex anatomy; it orchestrates and enables cells to communicate to create and repair the structure and function of bodies. Our interdisciplinary efforts explore the roles that bioelectrical signaling plays in pattern memory and decision-making by somatic cell networks. By understanding the native principles guiding anatomical decision-making by cellular collectives, the team is creating powerful new quantitative theories of top-down pattern control along with protocols and instrumentation that show how living organ structure can be rationally modified. Addressing fundamental questions at the intersection of embryogenesis, computation, evolution, and synthetic morphology, this work explores a key frontier within the dark matter of biology: how information processing in cell groups implements robust control of large-scale functional anatomy.

Led by Michael Levin, the team is comprised of researchers with expertise in biology, computer science, and engineering from Tufts University, Harvard University, Princeton University, University of Chicago, and Tel Aviv University. Together we are using molecular genetics, biophysics, and developmental physiology, as well as techniques from the information sciences and AI to build new tools to understand and exploit the "software of life". The basic findings impact our understanding of evolution, cell biology, and computation. They also drive diverse practical applications in regenerative medicine, birth defects, cancer, and bioengineering.

Our Allen Discovery Center at Tufts University was generously founded by support from The Paul G. Allen Frontiers Group.