Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Biological computer built with DNA

Making computers using biological components is getting increasingly popular. Scientists found that the structure of DNA can be used to store information, and the wide variety of DNA-modifying enzymes we possess can help us modify input and output the way we want. Now, scientists from research institutes in California and Israel managed to create a computer that can encrypt, and consequently decipher information stored in DNA. Their system may help us build a computer based on biological molecules.

In their experiments, the scientists placed millions of DNA molecules in a certain pattern on a chip. By adding all sorts of molecules and enzymes into a mix, the structure was modified in such a way that the original pattern was made visible. The DNA on the chip, which had fluorescent labels attached to it, was rearranged in such a way that it revealed the logos of the two research institutes that made the technique.

Encrypting and decrypting certain patterns help us store information on DNA, which could be an alternative to conventional storage on a computer. Because the enzymes have predetermined functions, scientists control the input and output. They can use a set of DNA and enzymes to create an encrypted pattern, that can consequently be decrypted again by applying a second set of enzymes.

The advantage of rearranging DNA molecules with specific enzymes is that the modifications, or 'calculations' if seen as computer language, can be performed in parallel. According to the scientists, it is possible to let billions of enzymes do their modifications at the same time, which gives unprecedented computing power. It's one of the big advantages of biological computing, and it's what makes this technique promising. If we can encrypt and decrypt information the way we want, we can build ourselves a fast storage system with a high level of security.

Other attempts
It is not the first time scientists come up with a way to harness the structure of DNA for computing. A previous study revealed that we can make computer building blocks with DNA. Additionally, attempts have been made to turn cells into computers by making it possible to program them.

1 comment:

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