Thursday, October 20, 2011

Computer building blocks made out of bacterial DNA

A British team of researchers have shown they can make the building blocks for a computer by using DNA from bacteria. These biological components could in time give rise to the first biological computer, that can be build on a molecular scale. Small computers give us new possibilities to use digital processing power, such as using it in the human body, where size matters. However, actually creating a computer with the biological building blocks is still years away.

The scientists succeeded in making logic gates, that form the basis of all processors. Examples include the AND and NOT gate, that were successfully built by using DNA from E.coli bacteria. In addition, those two gates were combined, to form the NAND gate, highlighting the capabilities of biological components in the creation of logic gates for computers. Experiments were performed to prove the logic gates worked, and performed just like an electronical equivalent.

Two genes were used as input for the AND gate. When they are both expressed, inside the E.coli bacteria, they turn on a promotor that regulates the expression of a third gene. This serves as the output. With this, the scientists have shown a mechanism that is similar to the electronical AND gate.

Building computers with biological components holds several advantages over the current electronic versions. Perhaps the most important is size: DNA is small, and computers could therefore be built on a molecular scale. They could be used as sensors in the body, to monitor glucose levels, or perhaps detect cancer cells, and consequently kill them. The development of biological logic gates is a first step in that direction. 

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