Bioelectric pattern memories: a new kind of epigenetics in development and regeneration.
What determines the invariant 3-dimensional structure of complex living bodies? During regeneration, how do individual cells make decisions that enable them to cooperate to regenerate limbs, and stop when the precisely correct anatomy is completed? How do cell collectives work toward morphological endpoints, despite drastic perturbations, and (usually) resist reversion to a unicellular lifestyle known as cancer? How far can we, as bioengineers, alter the set point of this pattern homeostasis, for applications in regenerative medicine and synthetic morphology? In this talk, I will highlight some of the glaring gaps in the understanding of the relationship between DNA and anatomy. I will talk about how endogenous bioelectric circuits enable collective decision-making in the control of growth and form, and describe our new tools and approaches for editing in vivo the bioelectrically-encoded pattern memories. I will also describe our recent successes in exploiting the bioelectric code for repair of brain defects, regeneration of limbs, and tumor reprogramming. This talk will review our work at the intersection of developmental biophysics and basal cognition and highlight opportunities for novel theory in this emerging field. Using conceptual approaches from cybernetics and cognitive science, we work to advance the basic understanding of evolutionary developmental biology and to implement novel strategies for birth defects, regenerative medicine, and synthetic bioengineering.