A Survey of Biological Building Blocks for Synthetic Molecular Communication Systems

Söldner C, Socher E, Jamali V, Wicke W, Ahmadzadeh A, Breitinger HG, Burkovski A, Castiglione K, Schober R, Sticht H (2020)

Publication Type: Journal article

Publication year: 2020


Book Volume: 22

Pages Range: 2765-2800

Article Number: 9139214

Journal Issue: 4

DOI: 10.1109/COMST.2020.3008819


Synthetic molecular communication (MC) is a new communication engineering paradigm which is expected to enable revolutionary applications such as smart drug delivery and real-time health monitoring. The design and implementation of synthetic MC systems (MCSs) at nano- and microscale is very challenging. This is particularly true for synthetic MCSs employing biological components as transmitters and receivers or as interfaces with natural biological MCSs. Nevertheless, since such biological components have been optimized by nature over billions of years, using them in synthetic MCSs is highly promising. This paper provides a survey of biological components that can potentially serve as the main building blocks, i.e., transmitter, receiver, and signaling particles, for the design and implementation of synthetic MCSs. Nature uses a large variety of signaling particles of different sizes and with vastly different properties for communication among biological entities. Here, we focus on three important classes of signaling particles: cations (specifically protons and calcium ions), neurotransmitters (specifically acetylcholine, dopamine, and serotonin), and phosphopeptides. These three classes have unique and distinct features such as their large diffusion coefficients, their specificity, and/or their uniqueness of signaling that make them suitable candidates for signaling particles in synthetic MCSs. For each of these candidate signaling particles, we present several specific transmitter and receiver structures mainly built upon proteins that are capable of performing the distinct physiological functionalities required from the transmitters and receivers of MCSs. Moreover, we present options for both microscale implementation of MCSs as well as the micro-to-macroscale interfaces needed for experimental evaluation of MCSs. One of the main advantages of employing proteins for signal emission and detection is that they can be modified with tools from synthetic biology and be tailored to a wide range of application needs. We discuss the properties, limitations, and applications of the proposed biological building blocks for synthetic MCSs in detail. Furthermore, we outline new research directions for the implementation and the theoretical design and analysis of the proposed transmitter and receiver architectures.

Authors with CRIS profile

Involved external institutions

How to cite


Söldner, C., Socher, E., Jamali, V., Wicke, W., Ahmadzadeh, A., Breitinger, H.G.,... Sticht, H. (2020). A Survey of Biological Building Blocks for Synthetic Molecular Communication Systems. IEEE Communications Surveys & Tutorials, 22(4), 2765-2800. https://dx.doi.org/10.1109/COMST.2020.3008819


Söldner, Christian, et al. "A Survey of Biological Building Blocks for Synthetic Molecular Communication Systems." IEEE Communications Surveys & Tutorials 22.4 (2020): 2765-2800.

BibTeX: Download