Michael Levin started out as a computer programmer interested in philosophy of mind and artificial intelligence. He then earned two B.S. degrees, in computer science and biology, followed by a Ph.D. in genetics from Harvard University (characterizing the molecular pathway determining the left-right asymmetry of the body).
He started his independent lab in 2000, focused on understanding the mechanisms by which cells and tissues process information and make decisions. His group developed the first tools to listen in on, and re-write, the bioelectric signals by which all cells communicate to work together to create and repair complex anatomical organs. He is currently Vannevar Bush chair and Distinguished Professor, serving as the director of the Allen Discovery Center at Tufts University.
The Levin lab uses techniques of developmental biology, computer science, and cognitive science to understand how the intelligence of cellular collectives can be predicted and controlled. They develop biochemical and optical ways to reprogram biological growth with stimuli, not genetic editing, seeking to understand how evolution harnesses physics for adaptive, goal-directed somatic computation. Applications of the work extend to the repair of birth defects, regeneration of damaged or lost organs, normalization of cancer, and the creation of synthetic living machines that shed light on the evolution of cognitive capacities in tissue.