molpigs, The Molecular Programming Interest Group, is an international group of researchers interested in topics such as molecular programming, DNA computing, and other aspects of biomolecular nanotechnology. We host regular seminars, poster sessions, journal clubs, send out newsletters, and host a forum for discussion and fostering collaboration.
Hello and welcome back to the molpigs newsletter! Feel free to hang out at the molpigs Forum! All the past podcasts and tutorial can be found here. You can also now find our podcasts on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, TuneIn, and more (as well as manually in your favorite podcast client with our RSS feed)! Enjoy!
We are now on twitter!
- Podcast with Namita Sarraf
- Upcoming reddit Ask Us Anything — Get involved!
- New events coming!
- Interested in helping out, sharing something interesting, or have an idea for something we could do?
1. Podcast with Namita Sarraf
What do ant colonies have to do with molecular programming? In this podcast, we spoke with Namita Sarraf, a graduate student at Caltech in Lulu Qian’s group.
We discuss her research, which revolves around the production of multifunctional and modular DNA robots. Namita takes inspiration from ant colony dynamics to design robots, which alone may exhibit simple behaviour, but show emergent complexity when put together. By having these robots pattern the surface, ant pheromones can be emulated. One task which these “DNA ants” are being made to perform is maze-solving. Because traditional methods are not ideal for DNA robots, Namita is developing bespoke maze-solving algorithms. As she points out however, maze-solving by itself is not inherently useful, and for this reason these DNA robots are being built for modularity and composability. By combining maze-solving with cargo sorting Namita can generate more complex behaviours with real world applications.
We then move on to talk about how Namita moved into molecular programming from her original field of tissue engineering. We discuss graduate student life, impostor syndrome, and the generation of negative results and their use in publishing.
Namita is also one of the founders of the open collaborative textbook project “The Art of Molecular Programming”, a grassroots project aimed at collecting experts in the field to build a comprehensive textbook which will serve as a starting point for new and existing researchers. We discuss how the idea came about, inspired by the spirit of the Synthetic Biology community. The Art of Molecular Programming aims to be a project which collects all of the useful pieces of lore which exist scattered throughout the molecular programming literature and put them in one useful repository, taking away the pain that new graduate students endure in their first years while they struggle to build up a coherent picture of the field by reading countless ad-hoc papers. Check it out here!
Namita Sarraf is a graduate student in Lulu Qian’s lab at Caltech. She works on using simple algorithms to implement complex functionality in DNA robots. She earned her B.S. in Biomedical Engineering at the University of Rochester, where she did research in tissue engineering (before learning about molecular programming, and falling in love with it).
2. Upcoming reddit Ask Us Anything — Get involved!
We’re setting up an “Ask Us Anything” about the field of molecular programming, and we’d like to invite you to join us.
Ask Us Anythings are a chance for the public to read about what our field does, and then to ask us anything they want to know about molecular programming. It will be hosted on reddit r/askscience (cross posted on r/IAmA) on March 31st, starting around 10am PDT/ 1pm EDT/ 6pm GMT/ 1am+1 JST. You’ll be able to log in to reddit any time your schedule allows and answer as many/few questions as you want. Here are a few examples. Our team will all be answering questions asynchronously for about 24 hours. We might end up posting different perspectives on the same questions, so it should be quite interesting!
If you’d like to participate, please email Dominic Scalise.
This community outreach project is co-hosted by MolPigs and the Molecular Programming Society (the team putting together a grassroots textbook called The Art of Molecular Programming). Thank you to everyone who has expressed in the textbook so far. We’ll be reaching out to prospective authors who filled out our application in about 6 more weeks, after we have the textbook foundation all in place.
— The Molecular Programming Society
3. New events coming!
We will soon talk with Prof. Damien Woods and Tristan Stérin!
If you have any questions, please send them here!
4. Interested in helping out, sharing something interesting, or have an idea for something we could do?
If so, please get in touch with us! Shoot us an email at
contributions AT <this domain>, there are loads of ways you can get involved, and many we haven’t even thought of, but here’s a few ideas of what you could do:
- Be a guest on our podcast series: you can talk about anything vaguely related to the field, whether it’s comments on life as a student/researcher, some thoughts you’ve had about the field, some interesting work you want to share, or if you want to speak out about something like mental health, this is the perfect place to do it!
- Present a poster-podcast! This is something we’re very excited to try out, and we hope you feel the same: the idea is to try to explain something (it doesn’t have to be your own work) within a 20-30 minute podcast, with the challenge that all reference material needs to fit into a poster format.
- Want to advertise something on our newsletter? Perhaps you’ve just passed your thesis defence, or are looking for a team for a hackathon, or have a job posting to share, or have just written a blog post you think might be of interest; whatever the case we’d love to help you share the good news!
- We’re also open to more conventional seminar-esque things like talks or journal clubs.
We’re looking forward to getting to hear from you, and getting to know you better!