The Software of Cell Signaling: Michael Levin Researches How Cells Build Anatomies
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Curious about how to make a two-headed flatworm? Michael Levin's lab has done just that. This podcast explores exciting regenerative medicine achievable in our lifetime. Listen in to hear how Professor Michael Levin has found a way to manipulate biological molecules, altering electrical triggers in cells to direct different anatomical constructions.
1. How he conceives of cellular and biological agency in a way that direct his study for the best possible outcome,
2. What types of molecular mechanisms his work engages with to redirect information structures and mapping so that cells make a different anatomical structure, and
3. How this work, including regenerating limbs in frogs, will apply to human limb regeneration.
Michael Levin is a Distinguished Professor at Tufts University as well as the Vannevar Bush Professor, the Director of Allen Discovery Center, and Director of the Tufts Center for Regenerative and Developmental Biology. His lab addresses regenerative medicine through the intersection of three areas: developmental biology, computer science, and cognitive science.
He establishes his approach to cognitive biology: It's not a question of philosophy but a very practical empirical engineering question. You have a system and you are trying to reverse engineer it, he explains. His investigations of molecular mechanisms in cell biology that determine pattern building strives to present achievable actions toward limb regeneration and altering molecular mechanisms of diseases like cancer.
His work doesn't engage with the molecular mechanisms of DNA replication or genetics, but rather cellular gap junctions, or voltage-gated current conductance, which hold the property of memory. His lab is not changing the structure or state of the circuit, but eliciting an electrical trigger. He makes this analogous to hardware versus software: this is not a hardware-level change, but one on a software level.
By identifying the bioelectric circuit that holds spatial distribution for certain state in planarian (flatworms), they've found a way to rewrite the electrical pattern that determines what cells are going to build after they are injured. Thus far they've used this to grow flatworms with two heads, for example, and produced limb regeneration in frogs. They also are working on redirecting cancer cells to move to a healthy state.
To find out more about this work, see his lab's website:
Available on Apple Podcasts: apple.co/2Os0myK
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Michael Levin: Anatomical decision-making by cellular collectives
Anatomical decision-making by cellular collectives: Bioelectrical pattern memories, regeneration, and synthetic living organisms.
A key question for basic biology and regenerative medicine concerns the way in which evolution exploits physics toward adaptive form and function. While genomes specify the molecular hardware of cells, what algorithms enable cellular collectives to reliably build specific, complex, target morphologies? Our lab studies the way in which all cells, not just neurons, communicate as electrical networks that enable scaling of single-cell properties into collective intelligences that solve problems in anatomical feature space. By learning to read, interpret, and write bioelectrical information in vivo, we have identified some novel controls of growth and form that enable incredible plasticity and robustness in anatomical homeostasis. In this talk, I will describe the fundamental knowledge gaps with respect to anatomical plasticity and pattern control beyond emergence, and discuss our efforts to understand large-scale morphological control circuits. I will show examples in embryogenesis, regeneration, cancer, and synthetic living machines. I will also discuss the implications of this work for not only regenerative medicine, but also for fundamental understanding of the origin of bodyplans and the relationship between genomes and functional anatomy.
The electrical blueprints that orchestrate life | Michael Levin
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DNA isn't the only builder in the biological world -- there's also a mysterious bioelectric layer directing cells to work together to grow organs, systems and bodies, says biologist Michael Levin. Sharing unforgettable and groundbreaking footage of two-headed worms, he introduces us to xenobots -- the world's first living robots, created in his lab by cracking the electrical code of cells -- and discusses what this discovery may mean for the future of medicine, the environment and even life itself. (This conversation, hosted by TED's Chris Anderson, was recorded June 2020.)
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Dr. Michael Levin - Tufts University - Reading and Writing the Bio-Electric Morphogenetic Code
Dr. Michael Levin is a Tufts University professor who holds the Vannevar Bush endowed Chair in the Biology department, and who serves as both the Director of the Tufts Center for Regenerative and Developmental Biology and Director, Allen Discovery Center at Tufts.
Dr. Levin’s group's focus is on understanding the bio-physical mechanisms that implement decision-making during complex pattern regulation, and harnessing endogenous bio-electric dynamics toward rational control of growth and form.
The lab's current main directions are:
• Understanding how somatic cells form bio-electrical networks for storing and recalling pattern memories that guide morphogenesis;
• Creating next-generation AI tools for helping scientists understand top-down control of pattern regulation (a new bioinformatics of shape);
• Using these insights to enable new capabilities in regenerative medicine and engineering.
Dr. Levin he got dual B.S. degrees, in Computer Science and in Biology and then received a PhD from Harvard University. He did post-doctoral training at Harvard Medical School, where he began to uncover a new bio-electric language by which cells coordinate their activity during embryogenesis. His independent laboratory (2000-2007 at Forsyth Institute, Harvard; 2008-present at Tufts University) develops new molecular-genetic and conceptual tools to probe large-scale information processing in regeneration, embryogenesis, and cancer suppression.
Recent honors include the Scientist of Vision award and the Distinguished Scholar Award.
Mindscape 132 | Michael Levin on Information, Form, Growth, and the Self
As a semi-outsider, it’s fun for me to watch as a new era dawns in biology: one that adds ideas from physics, big data, computer science, and information theory to the usual biological toolkit. One of the big areas of study in this burgeoning field is the relationship between the basic bioinformatic building blocks (genes and proteins) to the macroscopic organism that eventually results. That relationship is not a simple one, as we’re discovering. Standard metaphors notwithstanding, an organism is not a machine based on genetic blueprints. I talk with biologist and information scientist Michael Levin about how information and physical constraints come together to make organisms and selves.
Michael Levin received his Ph.D. in genetics from Harvard University. He is currently Distinguished Professor and Vannevar Bush Chair in the Biology department at Tufts University, and serves as director of the Tufts Center for Regenerative and Developmental Biology. His work on left-right asymmetric body structures is on Nature’s list of 100 Milestones of Developmental Biology of the Century.
Blog post with audio player, show notes, and transcript:
Mindscape Podcast playlist:
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CHArT Seminar Series: Bioelectrical signals reveal, induce, and normalize cancer
May 14, 2019
A seminar series with a special interest in ion channels from both biological and therapeutic perspectives.
Title: Endogenous bioelectric networks enable cell cooperation toward building anatomies and away from cancer: opportunities for electroceuticals
Dr. Michael Levin
Vannevar Bush Professor
Director, Allen Discovery Center at Tufts, Tufts Center for Regenerative and Developmental Biology
Animal tissue has the remarkable ability to self-organize especially during development, and in special cases, during regeneration after injury. Dr. Michael Levin explains how this process can be thought of as decision-making on the scale of cellular networks. While genetic programs are the “hardware”, we need to better understand the “algorithms” or control systems. Bioelectricity is a fundamental way by which cells can communicate the information needed to make tissue patterning decisions, and is mediated by specific mechanisms and molecules such as ion channels. This is more than a theoretical concern as diseases such as cancer should be thought of as disorders of cellular communication and not simply dysregulation at the single cell level.
Copyright Broad Institute, 2019. All rights reserved.
Endogenous Bioelectric Networks & Regenerative Medicine
Michael Levin, PhD, Director of the Allen Discovery Center at Tufts, and Tufts Center for Regenerative and Development Biology at Tufts University, presented innovative research in the fascinating fields of bioelectric networks and regenerative medicine.
In this presentation, Dr. Levin sketched a roadmap for regenerative medicine focused on manipulating the bioelectric pattern memories in tissue (as distinct to popular approaches of micromanaging molecular pathways), and described advances in the areas of repair of birth defects, limb regeneration, and cancer reprogramming.
He first discussed some fundamental problems of cell and developmental biology that must be solved to gain complete control over growth and form.
Dr. Levin also described developmental bioelectricity and the tools his group has created to modulate voltage-based signals that orchestrate cell behavior toward building and repairing complex anatomies.
Michael Levin, PhD, originally trained in computer science and artificial intelligence. Interested in novel ways to store and process information, he moved into biology to understand how living tissue performs computation during morphogenesis. He received his PhD from the genetics department at Harvard Medical School, identifying the first genes regulating the left-right asymmetry of the embryonic bodyplan. His laboratory is at Tufts University, where he is Vannevar Bush professor of biology, and director of the Allen Discovery Center.
Levin’s group is focused on understanding the mechanisms and algorithms by which cells are harnessed toward the creation and repair of complex anatomies. His lab specializes in understanding the bioelectrical signals that all cells (not just neurons) enable coordination and decision-making at the organ level. Using a combination of molecular embryology, biophysics, and computational modeling, they develop biomedical applications and new advances in machine learning and robotics inspired by the software of life.
Bio-Electricity For Regeneration and Cancer Control
Ira Pastor, ideaXme life sciences ambassador and founder of Bioquark, interviews Dr. Michael Levin, Tufts University Professor who holds the Vannevar Bush endowed Chair in the Biology Department, and who serves as both the Director of the Tufts Center for Regenerative and Developmental Biology and Director of the Allen Discovery Center at Tufts.
Ira Pastor comments:
Form is generally defined as the shape and structure of something as distinguished from the materials that it’s constructed from, and the branch of biology that deals with the form of living organisms, and with the relationships between their structures, is known as morphology.
Every level of the human body requires complex form control mechanisms to be functional throughout a lifetime, across the body's many hierarchies (at the levels of DNA, cells, tissues, organs, limbs, and body segments), in order to accomplish a range of biologic outputs from embryogenesis, to growth, repair and regeneration, to preventing everything from tumor formation to transitions into a range of degenerative disease, to even neuro-plasticity in the human brain.
Yet, when it comes to topics like shape, size, polarity, position, where the properties and characteristics of the component parts of a system and the reciprocal interplay of all the components on each across these hierarchies are required, researchers need to go well beyond studying an individual gene or protein or stem cell, to a range of fascinating top-down control processes which control complex biological morphology.
Today, we have the honor of being joined by a true thought leader of this space, Dr. Michael Levin, Tufts University Professor who holds the Vannevar Bush endowed Chair in the Biology Department, and who serves as both the Director of the Tufts Center for Regenerative and Developmental Biology and Director of the Allen Discovery Center at Tufts.
Dr. Levin Researches the Utilization of Bio-electricity for Regeneration:
Dr. Levin’s group's focus is on understanding the biophysical mechanisms that implement decision-making during complex pattern regulation and harnessing endogenous bioelectric dynamics toward rational control of growth and form.
Dr. Levin's lab current focus:
• Understanding how somatic cells form bioelectrical networks for storing and recalling pattern memories that guide morphogenesis.
• Creating next-generation AI tools for helping scientists understand top-down control of pattern regulation (a new bioinformatics of shape).
• Using these insights to enable new capabilities in regenerative medicine and engineering.
Dr. Levin's recent honors include the Scientist of Vision award and the Distinguished Scholar Award.
On this episode we will hear from Dr. Levin about:
His background and how he became interested in computer science, biology, and the extremely frontier science space of biological morphology control. The introductory concept of a “Morphogenetic Field.” An introduction to the theme of Developmental Bioelectricity which refers to the regulation of cell, tissue, and organ-level patterning and behavior as the result of endogenous electrically-mediated signaling.
A general theme of the ability of morphogenetic fields and developmental bioelectricity to organize in/out required cells, as well as modify the diseased phenotype, as seen in his experiments in “normalizing” cancer. A general theme of the ability of morphogenetic fields and developmental bioelectricity to accomplish complex regeneration. His views on developmental bioelectricity modulating drugs versus using electroceuticals. His model of Variational Free-Energy Minimization as a way for human bodies to store complex pattern information.
His work in non-CNS information processing, storage, and cognition - such as in aneural organisms which do not possess brains, in non-neural human tissues, and in single cell organisms that agglomerate to form multi-cellular structures, like slime moulds. His experiences in fundraising for frontier sciences, such as with The Paul G. Allen Frontiers Group (the late Microsoft co-founder) whose mission is to uncover and make visible the emerging frontiers of science, identifying pioneering explorers to create new knowledge, and produce important solutions that make the world better.
This interview is in American English
Credits: Ira Pastor interview video, text, and audio.
Follow Ira Pastor on Twitter: @IraSamuelPastor
If you liked this interview, be sure to check out our interview with David Mittelstein
on Killing Cancer With Ultrasound!
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What Bodies Think About: Bioelectric Computation Outside the Nervous System - NeurIPS 2018
Presented December 4th 2018 by Prof. Michael Levin (Allen Discovery Center at Tufts University)
Vannevar Bush Professor
Director, Allen Discovery Center at Tufts
Director, Tufts Center for Regenerative and Developmental Biology
Morphological and behavioral information processing in living systems
The Regenerative Wisdom of The Body: Michael Levin
In a short presentation that provides a wealth of critical information, Michael Levin reports on the work of his lab at Tufts University on research into how animals control growth and form. All cells, not just nerve cells, communicate electrically, and evidence is growing that it is bioelectrical circuits that play the key role in the plasticity of shape and anatomy. His lab has shown the ability to induce whole organ formation, trigger regeneration, reprogram tumors, and repair birth defects – to radically change the body plan without editing the genome.
Science And NonDuality is a community inspired by timeless wisdom, informed by cutting-edge science, and grounded in personal experience. We come together in an openhearted exploration to further our individual and collective evolution. New ways of being emerge. We embody our interconnectedness and celebrate our humanity.
Mike Levin - Live ALife 2020 Keynote - Robot Cancer
Michael Levin, Vannevar Bush Professor; Director, Allen Discovery Center at Tufts; Director, Tufts Center for Regenerative and Developmental Biology, Department of Biology, Tufts University; Associate Faculty, Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, Harvard University
Talk title: Robot Cancer: what the bioelectrics of embryogenesis and regeneration can teach us about unconventional computing, cognition, and the software of life
Talk Abstract: Today's engineered robots are often made from reliable yet dumb parts, which greatly limits their adaptive functionality but ensures that their subsystems do not defect from the overall purpose. In contrast, a key aspect of Life is that biological systems have competency at each level - they are made of collectives of cells, tissues, organs, etc. each of which has local goals, which orchestrates the noise and fragility at lower levels towards highly robust system-level behaviors. The cooperation and competition across scales in living systems results in great plasticity, and in basal cognition - memory and decision-making outside the brain that can provide essential inspiration for artificial life and robotics. In this talk, I will outline the remarkable properties of complex body regeneration in some species, in which cellular collectives remember and work toward a specific anatomical outcome. We have now uncovered some of the mechanisms by which cells represent target morphologies and execute the anatomical homeostasis that enables them to reach these goals despite radical perturbations. The mechanism of this error reduction loop and pattern memory is bioelectrical, and I will describe the new tools with which we can now directly read out these anatomical setpoints in all cell types. Best of all, we can now re-write them in vivo, producing lines of 2-headed flatworms and other drastically altered animal anatomies by brief modulation of the bioelectric patterning software running on genomically un-edited (wild-type) cellular hardware. By cracking the morphogenetic code and understanding how anatomical decisions are implemented by distribute bioelectrical computations in tissues, we get closer to our endgame: a reverse anatomical compiler that will enable top-down design of living form at the level of patterning modules, not by micromanaging the molecular machine code on which much of biology is focused today. I will conclude by sketching out the implications of this field for not only biomedicine but also for new machine learning architectures and for the creation of computer-designed living organisms. The future belongs to a deep consilience of computer science, cognitive science, and biology to understand the plasticity of multi-scale computational systems and greatly broaden the boundaries of life-as-it-could-be.
Regeneration & Xenobots with Dr. Michael Levin of The Levin Lab | Build The Future Podcast
In this episode of Build The Future, we talk with Dr. Michael Levin, Principal Investigator at The Levin Lab, where their goal is to understand how individual cell behaviors are orchestrated towards appropriate large-scale outcomes despite unpredictable environmental perturbations.
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Picasso Tadpoles: Michael Levin on the 'Dark Matter' of Biology
Dr. Michael Levin of Tufts University crosses many disciplines: computer science, embryo development, cancer and tumor research; limb regeneration; evolutionary theory and neural networks.
If you watch Michael's fascinating talk at he'll take you down his magical rabbit hole including worms that grow new heads when you cut them in half, tumors that heal themselves and eyes planted on tails that actually work.
In this interview, Michael explodes the myth that we've got it mostly figured out.
The truth is closer to 1% understanding and 99% is Dark Matter.
Discover Michael's research at and
Mike Levin's talk
Michael Levin, Michael Levin, a professor in the Biology department at Tufts, holds the Vannevar Bush endowed Chair and serves as director of the Allen Discovery Center at Tufts University. Recent honors include the Scientist of Vision award and the Distinguished Scholar Award. His group's focus is on understanding the biophysical mechanisms that implement decision-making during complex pattern regulation, and harnessing endogenous bioelectric dynamics toward rational control of growth and form.
The lab's current main directions are:
Understanding how somatic cells form bioelectrical networks for storing and recalling pattern memories that guide morphogenesis;
Creating next-generation AI tools for helping scientists understand top-down control of pattern regulation (a new bioinformatics of shape); and
Using these insights to enable new capabilities in regenerative medicine and engineering.
Prior to college, Michael Levin worked as a software engineer and independent contractor in the field of scientific computing. He attended Tufts University, interested in artificial intelligence and unconventional computation. To explore the algorithms by which the biological world implemented complex adaptive behavior, he got dual B.S. degrees, in CS and in Biology and then received a PhD from Harvard University. He did post-doctoral training at Harvard Medical School (1996-2000), where he began to uncover a new bioelectric language by which cells coordinate their activity during embryogenesis. His independent laboratory (2000-2007 at Forsyth Institute, Harvard; 2008-present at Tufts University) develops new molecular-genetic and conceptual tools to probe large-scale information processing in regeneration, embryogenesis, and cancer suppression.
The Future Of Bioelectricity
Bioelectricity allows us to create two-headed worms, so what else can we do with this?
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How Bioelectricity Works: 0:47
Planarian Worm Experiments: 1:47
Frog Experiments: 3:28
Tadpole Experiments: 5:10
The Future of Limb Regeneration: 7:30
The Future of Synthetic Organisms: 11:02
The Future of...Human Enhancement: 12:50
Closing Thoughts: 14:10
Reach out to me if: 16:09
not everything here is published by michael levin, but honestly just look at his publications:
Brief Local Application of Progesterone via a Wearable Bioreactor Induces Long-Term Regenerative Response in Adult Xenopus Hindlimb:
Normalized Shape and Location of Perturbed Craniofacial Structures in the Xenopus Tadpole Reveal an Innate Ability to Achieve Correct Morphology:
Induction of Vertebrate Regeneration by a Transient Sodium Current:
Regeneration and repair of human digits and limbs: fact and fiction:
CONSERVATIVE MANAGEMENT OF GUILLOTINE AMPUTATION OF THE FINGER IN CHILDREN:
Serotonergic stimulation induces nerve growth and promotes visual learning via posterior eye grafts in a vertebrate model of induced sensory plasticity:
A Novel Method for Inducing Nerve Growth via Modulation of Host Resting Potential: Gap Junction-Mediated and Serotonergic Signaling Mechanisms:
Modeling Planarian Regeneration: A Primer for Reverse-Engineering the Worm:
The bioelectric code: An ancient computational medium for dynamic control of growth and form:
The Regenerative Wisdom of The Body: Michael Levin:
BioDome Regenerative Sleeve for Biochemical and Biophysical Stimulation of Tissue Regeneration:
What Bodies Think About: Bioelectric Computation Outside the Nervous System - NeurIPS 2018:
Large-scale biophysics: ion flows and
Neural control of body-plan axis in regenerating planaria:
Is DNA Hardware or Software?:
Cross-limb communication during Xenopus hindlimb regenerative response: non-local bioelectric injury signals:
Physiological inputs regulate species-specific anatomy during embryogenesis and regeneration:
The Role of Early Bioelectric Signals in the Regeneration of Planarian Anterior/Posterior Polarity:
Endogenous gradients of resting potential instructively pattern embryonic neural tissue via Notch signaling and regulation of proliferation :
Exploring Instructive Physiological Signaling with the Bioelectric Tissue Simulation Engine:
HCN2 Channel-Induced Rescue of Brain Teratogenesis via Local and Long-Range Bioelectric Repair:
Physiological controls of large‐scale patterning in planarian regeneration: a molecular and computational perspective on growth and form:
NOTCH signalling pathway:
EDEn–Electroceutical Design Environment: Ion Channel Tissue Expression Database with Small Molecule Modulators:
Electrifying insights into how bodies form...lol at the name:
Lectures / interviews with levin:
The Electrically Isolated Cell and the Birth of Cancer
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Why is there anything but cancer? If we are nothing but a collection of individual cells, and if individual cells are perfectly competent at fulfilling their own morphological, behavioral, and physiological needs, then how is it that multicellular organisms—and healthy, functioning ones at that—even exist?
Michael Levin explores these questions and more, including:
1. Is cancer a form of swarm intelligence, or the breakdown of it?
2. Are cancer cells particularly “selfish,” as many scientists believe, or are they just as selfish as any other biological system?
3. How does the regeneration of amphibian legs stop at just the right point, and what does this tell us about collective cell decision-making?
4. In the absence of broken hardware (e.g. mutated proteins), how and why does cancer begin?
5. Is there a common language amongst many different cell types in the body?
Michael Levin is a Distinguished Professor, Principal Investigator of the Levin Lab, and Director of the Allen Discovery Center at Tufts University, where he investigates how biological and non-biological systems underlie decision-making processes. How does memory storage, decision-making capabilities, and coherent, system-level behaviors emerge from biological and artificial artifacts?
According to Michael Levin, the answer lies in the cooperative behavior of individual cells—a type of swarm intelligence. Just like the individual ants in an ant colony behave collectively to reach a larger goal, so too do individual cells in the “colony” of an organism, like a human being. In order to repair and build a human body, individual cells must be connected to and behave in accordance with the collective, rather than operate at the individual level.
But it goes so much deeper than that. Consider, for instance, the regeneration of a salamander limb. Following amputation, a normal limb indistinguishable from the original is developed over the course of a few weeks. How does this regeneration stop precisely where it should? Why doesn’t the salamander end up with a limb that never stops getting longer?
Levin says that the stopping point of regeneration requires that the cellular collective compare the current anatomy of the organism to the layout of a correct salamander forelimb, and stop when the error rate is zero (or close to). In other words, the cellular collective can ascertain whether and when the anatomy is correct, and cease growth when appropriate.
Mechanisms of cellular communication are many, and it is this communication—this connectedness between individual cells—that allows for a cellular collective to have goal-directedness, which in turn, leads to salamanders with perfectly regenerated limbs (as just one of many examples).
Levin and his group are investigating what happens when an individual cell is unable to perceive the communication signals that normally keep it tightly harnessed to the greater system, like an entire human body. The ‘self’ of the cell shrinks from the level of an organ or organism to the level of a single cell, deaf to the sounds of its neighbors. In this place, the isolated cell does what it knows: proliferates as much as it can and exploits the resources as much as possible.
…And what do you get? Metastatic cancer.
Levin believes that when a cell loses its ability to communicate electrically with its neighbors, it converts to this state where its behavior leads to metastatic cancer. This is supported by the fact that when ion channel drugs are used to temporarily block cells from proper electrical connection to their neighbors, they convert to metastatic melanoma, even in the absence of mutation and carcinogens.
This understanding could one day lead to a commercial application that serves as an effective anti-cancer therapy. Levin discusses the details of all this and so much more.
It’s not one to miss—tune in now, and visit to learn more.
Available on Apple Podcasts: apple.co/2Os0myK
#cancer #cancerawareness #Findinggeniuspodcast
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Humans of the Wyss - Faculty Edition with Mike Levin
Our interview series, “Humans of the Wyss – Faculty Edition,” features Wyss Institute faculty members discussing how they think about their work, the influences that helped shape them as scientists, and their collaborations at the Wyss Institute and beyond.
In the second edition of the series, Benjamin Boettner, Wyss Institute Communications team member, talks to Associate Faculty member Mike Levin, Ph.D., in his laboratory at Tufts University, and asks him about his interests in bioelectricity, regenerative medicine, and the ways in which organisms develop and regenerate with the help of bioelectric information.
Tufts University Parents and Family Weekend Keynote Address - Professor Michael Levin
Michael Levin, A92- Vannevar Bush Professor, Director, Allen Discovery Center at Tufts, and Director, Tufts Center for Regenerative and Developmental Biology, delivers his fascinating lecture: “Taming Decision-Making by Cells and Organs: New Vistas for Regenerative Medicine and Artificial Intelligence” to Tufts University parents over Parents and Family Weekend, October 25-26, 2019.
Michael Levin | 2019 Allen Frontiers Symposium
Michael Levin presents on the latest research from the Allen Discovery Center for Reading and Writing the Morphogenetic Code at Tufts University.