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Dr_Andrew_Phillips147BRIDGETOWN, Barbados--A British-based Barbadian scientist has earned a prestigious award for helping Microsoft to develop computer software that is on course to reprogramming human cells.

Dr Andrew Phillips received a TR35 award on October 18 for leading the biological computation group at Microsoft Research Cambridge in genetic engineering work that is seeking to uncover fundamental principles of biological computation, which means, simply, what cells can compute and how and why they do so.

The award, presented by the international journal Technology Review, annually recognises the world's top innovators under the age of 35 and rewards a chosen few for their work in energy, medicine, computing, communications, nanotechnology and other fields.

The 34-year-old Barbadian was among more than 300 nominations reviewed by a panel of judges and the editorial staff of Technology Review. Phillips was described as "an outstanding, gifted young scientist" by professor of computational science at Oxford University, Stephen Emmott. His research into programming biology and DNA was, according to Emmott, "genuinely revolutionary and . . . having the potential to underpin a transformation of biology and medicine".

The young scientist is, naturally, elated.

"I feel really and truly honoured, especially given some of the past winners of the award, including Sergey Brin from Google, Mark Zuckerberg from Facebook and this year Andrew Mason from Groupon.

"It really inspired me to keep pushing forward and doing the best I can," said the former Harrison College student who copped a 1995 Barbados Scholarship with As in maths, French, physics and the General Paper.

One central aspect of Phillips' research is the design and implementation of DNA-based computational devices that can perform computation in living systems; in layman terms, seeking to programme life itself.

"We want to actually create DNA machines with designed instructions and functions and operate them in living cells and systems," Phillips stated. "In the same way you write programmes for a computer, hit 'compile' and get binary code as a sequence of numbers 0 and 1, we want to be able to write programmes for a living cell, hit 'compile' and get genetic code . . . . The cell then reads the code and produces the proteins that enable it to change its behaviour," he explained.

Phillips and his team at Cambridge are also working on the principle of what is called DNA-strand displacement, which can design, "compile" and implement DNA to do computations in a cell.

His A Level subjects set him well on the path to his current field, said the avid dancehall music fan whose other passion is kitesurfing.

"My teachers at Harrison College were very inspirational. Special thanks to Mr Persaud, my maths teacher, who really had a gift for explaining things. Maths is at the heart of a lot of my work," he added.

After leaving Barbados, Phillips did an undergraduate degree in engineering in Toulouse, France, and then did his Master's in computer science at Cambridge University.

"From there I decided to do a PhD at Imperial College London, and while I was finishing up my PhD I was able to do an internship at Microsoft Research. The internship went really well, and they offered a position as a post-doctoral researcher [in 2005] after my doctorate. Now I'm leading a small team of scientists, doing what I enjoy most," he told the Sunday Sun.

Amid cutting-edge, painstaking work that includes the development of a programming language code-named GEC, which can be used to programme cells to perform specific functions, Phillips still finds time to relax.

"The thing I'm most passionate about is kite-surfing! It's fantastic to be out on the water, surfing the waves and getting airborne. It's a big adrenaline rush, but technically there's also so much to learn.

"I'm a big dancehall fan. You'd be surprised how many dancehall artists we get passing through England," added Phillips, who often unwinds at the end of a hectic working day by playing network games with his Guadeloupean wife, Sandra, on their Xbox 360 consoles.

Married for seven years, he and Sandra met at university in France and have stayed by each other's side since then.

His parents – Barbadian John Phillips and British-born Mary Brojer Pallinska Phillips – as well as sister, acclaimed jazz singer Rosemary Phillips, the extended family and friends have been supportive – "encouraging me in the tough times and pushing me to do more", Phillips said.

So what are Phillips' plans, besides continuing ground-breaking work and travelling the world lecturing and publishing his research in science journals?

"I'd really like this work to contribute to solving some of the big challenges facing humanity, for example in developing sustainable energy resources and advancing medical research. I think a combination of biology and computer science is key to this.

"In my personal life, I'd like to start a family soon, though I know it will involve many sacrifices . . . ." (Barbados Sunday Sun)

Dr_Andrew_Phillips147BRIDGETOWN, Barbados--A British-based Barbadian scientist has earned a prestigious award for helping Microsoft to develop computer software that is on course to reprogramming human cells.

Dr Andrew Phillips received a TR35 award on October 18 for leading the biological computation group at Microsoft Research Cambridge in genetic engineering work that is seeking to uncover fundamental principles of biological computation, which means, simply, what cells can compute and how and why they do so.

The award, presented by the international journal Technology Review, annually recognises the world's top innovators under the age of 35 and rewards a chosen few for their work in energy, medicine, computing, communications, nanotechnology and other fields.

The 34-year-old Barbadian was among more than 300 nominations reviewed by a panel of judges and the editorial staff of Technology Review. Phillips was described as "an outstanding, gifted young scientist" by professor of computational science at Oxford University, Stephen Emmott. His research into programming biology and DNA was, according to Emmott, "genuinely revolutionary and . . . having the potential to underpin a transformation of biology and medicine".

The young scientist is, naturally, elated.

"I feel really and truly honoured, especially given some of the past winners of the award, including Sergey Brin from Google, Mark Zuckerberg from Facebook and this year Andrew Mason from Groupon.

"It really inspired me to keep pushing forward and doing the best I can," said the former Harrison College student who copped a 1995 Barbados Scholarship with As in maths, French, physics and the General Paper.

One central aspect of Phillips' research is the design and implementation of DNA-based computational devices that can perform computation in living systems; in layman terms, seeking to programme life itself.

"We want to actually create DNA machines with designed instructions and functions and operate them in living cells and systems," Phillips stated. "In the same way you write programmes for a computer, hit 'compile' and get binary code as a sequence of numbers 0 and 1, we want to be able to write programmes for a living cell, hit 'compile' and get genetic code . . . . The cell then reads the code and produces the proteins that enable it to change its behaviour," he explained.

Phillips and his team at Cambridge are also working on the principle of what is called DNA-strand displacement, which can design, "compile" and implement DNA to do computations in a cell.

His A Level subjects set him well on the path to his current field, said the avid dancehall music fan whose other passion is kitesurfing.

"My teachers at Harrison College were very inspirational. Special thanks to Mr Persaud, my maths teacher, who really had a gift for explaining things. Maths is at the heart of a lot of my work," he added.

After leaving Barbados, Phillips did an undergraduate degree in engineering in Toulouse, France, and then did his Master's in computer science at Cambridge University.

"From there I decided to do a PhD at Imperial College London, and while I was finishing up my PhD I was able to do an internship at Microsoft Research. The internship went really well, and they offered a position as a post-doctoral researcher [in 2005] after my doctorate. Now I'm leading a small team of scientists, doing what I enjoy most," he told the Sunday Sun.

Amid cutting-edge, painstaking work that includes the development of a programming language code-named GEC, which can be used to programme cells to perform specific functions, Phillips still finds time to relax.

"The thing I'm most passionate about is kite-surfing! It's fantastic to be out on the water, surfing the waves and getting airborne. It's a big adrenaline rush, but technically there's also so much to learn.

"I'm a big dancehall fan. You'd be surprised how many dancehall artists we get passing through England," added Phillips, who often unwinds at the end of a hectic working day by playing network games with his Guadeloupean wife, Sandra, on their Xbox 360 consoles.

Married for seven years, he and Sandra met at university in France and have stayed by each other's side since then.

His parents – Barbadian John Phillips and British-born Mary Brojer Pallinska Phillips – as well as sister, acclaimed jazz singer Rosemary Phillips, the extended family and friends have been supportive – "encouraging me in the tough times and pushing me to do more", Phillips said.

So what are Phillips' plans, besides continuing ground-breaking work and travelling the world lecturing and publishing his research in science journals?

"I'd really like this work to contribute to solving some of the big challenges facing humanity, for example in developing sustainable energy resources and advancing medical research. I think a combination of biology and computer science is key to this.

"In my personal life, I'd like to start a family soon, though I know it will involve many sacrifices . . . ." (Barbados Sunday Sun)