Biological Computation: How does nature compute?

(From "Biological Computation NSF Workshop", J.Hickman, F.Darema, W.R.Adrion)

When viewed as information technologies, it is apparent biological systems have an enormous capability as control systems for agility or regulation, for pattern recognition, adaptability, information storage, sensor fusion and other information-handling tasks of great interest to computer scientists, computer engineers and anyone else interested in IT-related research. In these and other domains, biology performs at levels many orders of magnitude better than silicon-based systems. We believe that research at the interface of biology and information technology may lead to important new information systems (algorithms and software) and computer technologies (hardware). The question is what and how can we learn and understand from the biological systems, and how can we adopt them and adapt them to develop these new computer technologies. The objective of this short treatise is to define what we mean by Biological Computation in view of other work in this area and then develop the idea to serve as a basis for future discussion.

Biocomputation has been used as a catch-all term for research at the interface of biology and computation, but that term is used in so many ways and for such different subsets of this intersection as to cause confusion. To help guide discussions, we offer that the general area of biocomputation can be divided into four major categories: Biomolecular Computation, Computational Biology, Bioinformatics, and Biological Computation. We define the four categories as follows:

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