Scientists from the California Institute of Technology have built a computer from DNA molecules that can solve logical tasks. The invention is pointing towards more advanced biological computers.
A living being is similar to a computer. Software tells the hardware what to do. But humans are not the hardware layer of electronics, but of a biochemical cycle.
Such a biochemical cycle, scientists have long tried to exploit as a kind of DNA computer. Now a research team from the California Institute of Technology has managed to create the most advanced version so far.
- A biochemical cycle consists of a mixture of DNA molecules that trigger new molecules when they are being affected right. We mix all of these molecules in the laboratory, and by designing a molecule of DNA sequences, we can program their reactions to each other, says Winfree, who is lead author of the article is now published in Science.
PhD student at DTU Informatik, Michael Reibel Boes, have helped to build a "self-healing" DNA computer on Denmark's Technical University. He believes that the molecule in the response of one another represent a biological analogy to electronic hardware.
- When you now create functionality in electronic hardware it can be done using so-called "logic gates". A logical statement can be true or false, says Boes.
- If we then say that the truth is the number 1 and false is a 0, you can transfer it to the electronics. The number 1 is the same as the power is on, and 0 the power is off. A logic gate in a chip is simply an electronic realization of these logical functions using transistors, he explains.
- U.S. researchers have created a kind of DNA-ports that have the same logical functions, says Boes.
The researchers have designed a molecule DNA sequencing, and can thus control the reactions of other molecules. (Photo: Colourbox)
Erik Winfree and his colleagues have worked with a DNA computer in a little over three years. Only then did they manage to create a more complex model with hundreds of DNA strands.
- One of the most important things we provide is that we have streamlined the earlier approaches to DNA computers, because the components must be very simple before they are reliable NOK that you can use them to build complex systems, says Winfree.
In 2002 built another research a DNA computer. According to Michael Reibel Boes separates the two computers is just in terms of complexity.
- U.S. researchers have been able to implement much more logical features than in previous editions. It makes a significant difference, because now you can build them more complex, he said.
Long road to commercial use
The road to commercial use of the DNA computer is long, says Boes. He compares the researchers working with first time someone put together electronic transistors to form a logical port.
- The time it was also a long way to the 10-100 million transistors on a chip today. There is also a long way to Windows, smart phones, parking sensors and so on. In return, the start of lots of exciting research, he explains.
Hope for the technology is that computers should be able to function in living cells. That way they can for example be used to carry drugs to specific locations in the body.
- Scientists have long toyed with the idea of injecting a "robot" in the blood stream. However, a robot must have a high degree of autonomy to make decisions, such as: Are we on the left or right down by the liver? Which tool should I use to get on here?
- The researchers' work means that you now can use the navigation algorithms from the IT world, says Boes.
The increased fusion of biology and IT is thus an important result of this research.