Biological computer uses DNA in calculations

A biological computer – the most advanced one ever developed – has been created by researchers from the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa. This biological transducer is created using only biomolecules including DNA and enzymes. The device is able to read genetic code, carry out calculations and manipulate DNA to report its results.

The biomolecular computer could be used to detect DNA sequences, as well as to process and manipulate genetic code. Researchers believe that a sufficiently-advanced biological computer could have the computational power of a universal Turing machine, able to simulate other computers. This would allow for simple customization of such processors. 

his new transducer uses plasmids, small DNA molecules having just a few genes, as inputs. The processing is directed by molecular software that acts as software, and then uses DNA-manipulating enzymes to write new information on the plasmid as a two-part output. The quotient is encoded in the plasmid and the remainder is expressed by manipulating the ratio of different types of E. coli bacteria.

Biological computers are able to interact directly with biological systems. Since the devices are composed of bio-materials, there is no need to have an interface between a computer and the organism on which it is interacting. A biological computer can become a part of the person or animal in which it is embedded. Practical uses could one day include gene therapy and cloning.

« In addition to enhanced computation power, this DNA-based transducer offers multiple benefits, including the ability to read and transform genetic information, miniaturization to the molecular scale, and the aptitude to produce computational results that interact directly with living organisms, » lead researcher Ehud Keinan said.

In order to provide a proof of concept, the transducer was put to the task of dividing binary numbers by three, which it successfully accomplished.

« All biological systems, and even entire living organisms, are natural molecular computers, » Keinan said. « Every one of us is a biomolecular computer, that is, a machine in which all components are molecules ‘talking’ to one another in a logical manner. The hardware and software are complex biological molecules that activate one another to carry out some predetermined chemical tasks, »

The creation of the new bio-transducer was announced in the May 23 issue of the journal Chemistry and Biology.


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