The Eclectic Lives of Individual Cells

When Thomas Norman first joined Harvard’s department of systems biology, he had never taken a biology course or worked in a lab. His background was in pure math and engineering, and especially the field known as control theory, the study of systems regulated by feedback, like thermostats and electricity grids. “But cells,” Thomas says, “face many of the same broad tasks that engineers face. They have to control certain components with high accuracy, necessitating feedback, and they need to monitor the effects of their environment. But unlike human technology, with cells we don’t necessarily know how their logic operates. We have to explain it after the fact.”

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