Biochemistry, Department of


Date of this Version



NANOCOM ’17, Washington D.C., USA, 2017

DOI: 10.1145/3109453.3109474


© 2017 Copyright held by the owner/author(s). Publication rights licensed to ACM.


The opportunity to control and fine-tune the behavior of biological cells is a fascinating possibility for many diverse disciplines, ranging from medicine and ecology, to chemical industry and space exploration. While synthetic biology is providing novel tools to reprogram cell behavior from their genetic code, many challenges need to be solved before it can become a true engineering discipline, such as reliability, safety assurance, reproducibility and stability. This paper aims to understand the limits in the controllability of the behavior of a natural (non-engineered) biological cell. In particular, the focus is on cell metabolism, and its natural regulation mechanisms, and their ability to react and change according to the chemical characteristics of the external environment. To understand the aforementioned limits of this ability, molecular communication is used to abstract biological cells into a series of channels that propagate information on the chemical composition of the extracellular environment to the cell’s behavior in terms of uptake and consumption of chemical compounds, and growth rate. This provides an information-theoretic framework to analyze the upper bound limit to the capacity of these channels to propagate information, which is based on a well-known and computationally efficient metabolic simulation technique. A numerical study is performed on two human gut microbes, where the upper bound is estimated for different environmental compounds, showing there is a potential for future practical applications.